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INSIGHTS CURRENT EVENTS: 01 November 2014

2nd Meeting of SAARC Education Ministers Held

The 2nd Meeting of SAARC Ministers of Education/Higher Education was held at New Delhi recently. The Union HRD Minister of India was unanimously elected to the Chair. Education Ministers and officials of eight South Asian countries have resolved to collaborate on increased use of information technology and improving the quality of education.

India’s initiatives for inclusive education, quality improvement, use of ICT in education, development and sharing of e-resources, connectivity, e-learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), mutual capacity building, more exchanges of students and researchers, etc. were discussed in the meeting and it was agreed to share the best practices and achievements in education by each Member State for leveraging on mutual strengths.

The Minsters of Education from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives and Nepal, Chairman, Higher Education Commission from Pakistan and Senior Officers from Sri Lanka participated in the Meeting. They re-affirmed their commitment to inclusive learning and gender equitable quality education. The Ministers further emphasized the need for expanding opportunities for skill development revitalizing higher education system in the SAARC Member States through expansion of higher education institutions as well as coordinating learning modes such as open and distance learning and enhancing the accessibility and quality of education to achieve universalization of secondary and higher secondary education.

A New Delhi Declaration on Education was also adopted at the Meeting identifying SAARC Perspectives on the Post-2015 Education Agenda and Regional Priority Areas of Action and it was agreed to expand the scope of cooperation.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB.

Dosti-XII

A four-day trilateral Coast Guard exercise ‘Dosti-XII’ among India, Maldives and Sri Lanka off the Maldives coast ended on Friday. Five ships and two aircraft participated in the event.

‘Dosti’ was institutionalised in 1991 as bilateral exercise between the Indian Coast Guard and the Maldives National Security Service. Sri Lanka became part of the exercise in 2012.

Sources: The Hindu.

Antarctic ozone hole stands steady, finds study

Scientists say that the Antarctic ozone hole reached its peak size in September, stretching to 24.1 million square kilometres, almost the same size as last year’s peak.

The ozone hole, which forms annually in the August to October period, had peaked to 24 million square kilometres in September last year. In comparison, the largest ozone hole area recorded to date on a single day was on September 9, 2000, at 29.9 million square kilometres.

Measurements show less thinning of the ozone over the South Pole during the past three years. However, the rate at which ozone thins during the month of September has remained about the same for the past two decades. A decrease in this rate will be an important sign of recovery.

Over the last 50 years, satellite and ground-based records over Antarctica show ozone column amounts ranging from 100 to 400 Dobson units, which translates to about 1 millimetre to 4 millimetres of ozone in a layer if all of the ozone were brought down to the surface.

Researchers said that the Antarctic ozone hole began making a yearly appearance in the early 1980s, grew in size through the 1980s and has been consistently large since 1990, with annual variability attributed to stratospheric meteorological conditions over Antarctica.

The hole is caused by chlorine released by man—made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs that were extensively used as aerosol sprays and in refrigerators.

The ozone layer helps shield life on Earth from potentially harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause skin cancer, damage plants and phytoplankton — the top of the oceanic food chain.

Sources: The Hindu.

One rank, one pension scheme pushes up defence pension bill

The implementation of one rank, one pension has pushed up the Centre’s defence pension payments by a record 40 per cent, posing fresh challenges to keep the Centre’s fiscal deficit within the budgetary target of 4.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

One rank one pension Scheme:

One rank, one pension means soldiers of the same rank and the same length of service get the same pension, irrespective of their retirement date.

It means that the retired soldiers of the same rank and length of service will receive the same amount of pension, regardless of when they retire. In simple words, it demands equal pensions for those who have retired in one particular year, as those who retire in another year at the same position, and for the same duration of services rendered.

So far, there was no such rule. While every pay commission bumps the salaries of government servants, pensions of ex-servicemen remain the same.

Supreme Court in a ruling had stated that “Pension is not a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer. It is not an ex-gratia payment, but a payment for past services rendered”. The significance of OROP is therefore justified.

Sources: The Hindu, indiatoday.intoday.in/.

80:20 scheme for gold import set for revamp

With gold imports on the rise again, officials of the revenue department and other government agencies feel the 80:20 scheme, wherein out of every 100 units imported, 20 units have to be exported, should be revamped. Several cases unearthed by agencies reveal that the scheme is being grossly misused by traders.

The scheme was introduced with a view to ensure net imports of gold don’t become a burden on the country’s current account.

Why revamping is needed?

  • Several instances of export of substandard or even fake gold jewellery have been unearthed, which proved that the scheme is being misused. According to officials, it is difficult to decipher fake jewellery, as caratometer, instrument used to test purity of gold, can test only the surface of ornaments.
  • Round-tripping of gold was rampant earlier also, but now that is used to get higher eligibility to import gold under the 80:20 Scheme.
  • Smuggling has become rampant, as gold availability is scarce. Besides, a premium has to be paid for physical delivery of gold and a 10 per cent import duty.
  • To finance smuggling, hawala route was the preferred option and hence premiums have increased and quoted in the range of three-four per cent.

To stop misuse, the scheme should be simple to implement and supervise. Hence the experts are considering various options such as fixing an import quota and allowing only banks to import.

Sources: The Hindu.