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Insights Daily Current Events, 14 January 2015

Insights Daily Current Events, 14 January 2015

Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015

An ordinance has been promulgated to amend certain provisions of MMDR Act, 1957.

Why?

  • The promulgation of Ordinance became necessary to address the emergent problems in the mining industry.
  • In the last few years, the number of new Mining Leases granted in the country has fallen substantially.
  • In addition, second and subsequent renewals have also been affected by Court judgements.
  • As a result, the output in the mining sector has come down drastically, leading to import of minerals by users of those minerals.

The salient provisions of the Ordinance are as follows:

  • All mineral concessions will be granted only through auction.
  • Direct auction for mining leases for bulk minerals; auction of prospecting licences-cum-mining leases for deep-seated minerals.
  • Uniform lease period of 50 years; no renewals; auction at the end of lease period; will solve issues arising out of all SC judgments on second and subsequent renewals.
  • Transition period of minimum 15 years for captive mines and 5 years for other mines; no sudden stoppage as a result of amendment.
  • Central Government empowered to prescribe deadlines for various processes and to issue binding directions to States.
  • Central Government to frame separate rules for atomic minerals.
  • The previous approval of the Central Government will not be required for grant of mineral concession except for Atomic Minerals, Coal and Lignite.
  • Enabling powers for reservation for the public sector to continue.
  • Higher penalties and jail terms for offences; special courts may be constituted, if necessary.
  • District Mineral Foundation to take care of people and areas affected by mining.
  • National Mineral Exploration Trust to be set up for impetus to exploration.
  • Easy transferability of concessions obtained through auctions so as to attract private investment and FDI.
  • Powers to Central Government to intervene even where State Governments do not pass orders within prescribed time lines; this will eliminate delay.

Sources: PIB.

 

Learning outcomes poor, says ASER

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2014, says only an average 48.1 per cent of Class V children across India can read a Class II-level text. While this is an improvement from the 47 per cent in 2013, the percentage shot up to 46.9 from 31.9 in Tamil Nadu.

Details of the Survey:

  • Even as the reading levels of schoolchildren have stagnated throughout the country, Tamil Nadu has seen sharp improvements.
  • Though the reading levels in Himachal Pradesh (75.2 per cent) and Haryana (68.1 per cent) are higher, they do not differ much from 2013.
  • In Assam, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, less than 35 per cent of the Class V children surveyed can read a Class II-level text.
  • The survey covered 5.7 lakh children aged three to 16 from over 34,000 households between September and December across 16,497 villages in 577 districts.
  • The survey says that Tamil Nadu has made highest gains.
  • Across the country, the ability of Class V children to divide a three-digit number by a single digit fell from 36.2 per cent in 2010 to 26.1 per cent in 2014. Learning outcomes stagnated in reading and arithmetic since 2013. In Class II, only one out four children can read a Class II text and even in Class VIII, one-fourth still cannot read.

What should be done?

The need of the hour is to fix learning goals and have remedial classes for children to catch up. Several States have programmes to teach children, irrespective of the class they are in, basics that they have not yet understood. Sticking to the syllabus will not help those who are left behind.

Tamil Nadu’s success:

  • The survey says that Tamil Nadu has made highest gains.
  • In Maths, the achievements made by Tamil Nadu schoolchildren are even greater than those in reading.
  • The national average of Class V children who can do division increased from 25.6 per cent to 26.1 per cent between 2013 and 2014. In Tamil Nadu, it leapt from 14 per cent to 25.8 per cent during the period.
  • Experts say that Targeted teaching with adequate recruitments had resulted in the improvements in the State. In the past two years, 40,000 teachers have been recruited and teachers focus on weaker students. This, along with the incentives and teaching tools, has made a difference.
  • Tamil Nadu focussed a lot on improving the basics in Tamil and Maths in Classes I and II. It may also be the case that the activity-based learning in government schools is giving results now.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Search ads on sex determination under lens

The Union government has requested the Supreme Court to direct the search engines Google and Yahoo and Microsoft, which run the Bing search platform, to reveal the monetary gains they made from allowing online advertisements of pre-natal sex determination technologies in violation of the Indian law.

  • The Centre also wants details of the measures adopted by them to block and/or filter keywords and sponsored links that violates the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.
  • In an additional affidavit, the Cyber Law Division of the Union Communications and Information Technology Ministry did a U-turn from its previous position taken in a 2010 affidavit. It has said that the search engines came under the definition of “intermediaries” and had “statutory obligations,”.
  • Under the 2000 Act, an “intermediary” (search engine) is protected from being held liable for any third party information, data or communication link. But this protection depends on the “due diligence” on the part of the search engine to remove or disable “expeditiously” access to a material used to commit an unlawful act.

PCPNDT Act:

The Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted in response to the decline in Sex ratio in India, which deteriorated from 972 in 1901 to 927 in 1991.

  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
  • Female infanticide had been prohibited through legislation in pre-independence period and certain provisions were included in the Indian Penal code, 1860 for punishing causing miscarriages and other such offences.
  • But with the advent of diagnostic technology to detect the sex of the foetus very early on in pregnancy, a need was felt for a specific law to prevent the misuse of technology which could lead to female foeticide.

Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

Main provisions in the act are:

  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect :
    • genetic abnormalities
    • metabolic disorders
    • chromosomal abnormalities
    • certain congenital malformations
    • haemoglobinopathies
    • Sex linked disorders.
  • No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  • No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.
  • The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.

The Act was amended to bring the technique of pre conception sex selection and ultrasound technique within the ambit of the act. The amendment also empowered the central supervisory board and state level supervisory board was constituted.

In 1988, the State of Maharashtra became the first in the country to ban pre-natal sex determination through enacting the Maharashtra Regulation of Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB, Wiki.

 

Burning of cow dung cakes near Taj Mahal banned

Amid concerns over Taj Mahal turning yellow due to increasing pollution, the district administration has banned burning of cow dung cakes in Lucknow.

Why was it banned?

  • Black carbon soot generated by use of cow dung, coal and vehicular pollution is said to be the main cause behind major pollution in Agra that has started showing its impact on the “monument of love” – Taj Mahal – that is visited by lakhs of domestic and foreign tourists round the year.
  • A recent study published in an American journal says that due to brown and black carbon particles, the white marble of the Taj Mahal is turning yellow. Taking note of this, the district administration has banned burning of cow dung cakes, used for cooking purposes in the city.
  • Carbon particles that get deposited on Taj Mahal do not easily get washed away in rain. It is difficult to erect scaffolds around the Taj Mahal to treat the monument chemically. Therefore, such important initiatives have to be taken.

Other concerns:

  • While cow dung cakes are being used as fuel by poor people, coal is being used in large quantity mainly by manufacturers of bangles and “petha” sweet.
  • Use of over 4,000 diesel-run trucks and tempos that have been told to switch to CNG by mid-2015 is also a major concern.

 

The Agra Nagar Nigam has been asked to severely penalise those who flout the ban aimed at protecting the UNESCO World Heritage site. The government is also planning a special drive to distribute LPG connections to the poor who will be affected by the ban.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

‘Decent’ humour, dissent, not prohibited

The government has held out the promise that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act would not be used to stifle political dissent, humour that wasn’t vulgar and contrarian views, before a Supreme Court bench that’s re-hearing a batch of petitions challenging the legality of the law which confers wide powers of arrest on the police.

Controversy over Section 66A:

  • The law came in for criticism after several arrests by police over Facebook and other social media postings.
  • Two young women were arrested in Mumbai over a posting which the Shiv Sena found offensive.
  • A lecturer was arrested in Kolkata for forwarding cartoons of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
  • A writer was arrested in UP for criticising the suspension of IAS officer DS Nagpal.

In the wake of these incidents, many petitions were filed in SC challenging the law as being too vague, broad and arbitrary. SC in an interim order passed at the outset, restrained police from arresting anyone without clearing such action first with their superiors in such cases.

Arguments against the Law:

  • The SC has received petitions demanding that the law either be aligned with Article 19(2) of the Constitution or be struck down.
  • The opponents argue the I-T Act cannot prescribe restrictions on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression that were wider than warranted under Article 19(2), which allows the state to curtail them only on the grounds of public order, security of state etc. Any other restriction on free speech on social media would be an unreasonable restriction under the Constitution.

 

Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet. A conviction can fetch a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.

Sources: The Hindu, ET, Wiki.

 

Jan Dhan Yojana a game changer, says RBI

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Deputy Governor has said that ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’ scheme implemented by public sector banks, whereby 100 million bank accounts have been opened for those who were un-banked, is unequivocally a “game-changer.”

PRADHAN MANTRI JAN DHAN YOJANA:

The PMJDY was conceived as a national mission on financial inclusion with the objective of covering all households in the country with banking facilities and having a bank account for each household.

  • The Prime Minister had categorically declared that a bank account for each household was a “national priority”.
  • It is a scheme for comprehensive financial inclusion. Accounts can be opened with zero balance.

The mission mode objective of the PMJDY consists of 6 pillars.

During the 1st year of implementation under Phase I (15th August, 2014-14th August,2015), three Pillars namely

  • Universal access to banking facilities
  • Financial Literacy Programme and
  • Providing Basic Banking Accounts with overdraft facility of Rs.5000 after six months and RuPay Debit card with inbuilt accident insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh and RuPay Kisan card, will be implemented.

Phase II, beginning from 15th August 2015 upto15th August, 2018 will address,

  • Creation of Credit Guarantee Fund for coverage of defaults in overdraft accounts
  • Micro Insurance and
  • Unorganized sector Pension schemes like Swavlamban.

In addition, in this phase coverage of households in hilly, tribal and difficult areas would be carried out. Moreover, this phase would focus on coverage of remaining adults in the households and students.

The implementation strategy of the plan is to utilize the existing banking infrastructure as well as expand the same to cover all households.

The major shift this time in this Financial Inclusion effort of the Government is that households are being targeted instead of villages as targeted earlier. Moreover both rural and urban areas are being covered this time as against only rural areas targeted earlier. The present plan pursues digital financial inclusion with special emphasis on monitoring by a Mission headed by the Finance Minister.

Financial inclusion or inclusive financing is the delivery of financial services at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society, in contrast to financial exclusion where those services are not available or affordable.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB.

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