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Insights Daily Current Events, 02 February 2015

Insights Daily Current Events, 02 February 2015

Raahgiri Day

A first of its kind event “Raahgiri day for the persons with disabilities” was organized as a unique initiative by the Department of Empowerment of persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India recently.

  • The concept is inspired by “Ciclovia” held weekly in Bagota, Columbia and now popular all over the world known by different names viz. Open Streets, Summer Streets, etc.

What is it about?

  • Raahgiri Day provides citizens with the opportunity to reclaim their streets, connect with their community, celebrate their city and therefore reclaim their lives.
  • This year’s Raahgiri Day was special because it involved participation in cultural and sports activities predominantly by Persons with Disabilities. It was an effort to create an inclusive environment by way of showcasing the diverse range of unique abilities of the differently-abled children/ persons at the same time involving all the people witnessing the events.
  • This event was organised keeping in mind the spirit of Prime- Minister’s initiative “Sabka saath Sabka vikas” which includes the persons with disabilities.

It is a pathbreaking and colourful event of social inclusion.
The Department of Empowerment of persons with disabilities in collaboration with State Government will soon be organising similar such Raahgiri for persons with disabilities events in major metro cities like Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Mumbai in near future.

According to census 2011, there are 2.68 Crore persons with disabilities in India. This includes persons with visual, hearing, speech, locomotors and intellectual disabilities. India is signatory to the Declaration on the Full Participation and Equality of People with disabilities in the Asia Pacific Region. India is also signatory to the Biwako Millennium Framework for action towards an inclusive, barrier free and rights based society.

Sources: PIB.

 

PaHaL Scheme for Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG Subsidy

The Prime Minister recently reviewed, in a high level meeting, PaHaL (Pratyaksha Hastaantarit Laabh), the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme for LPG Subsidy.

  • PaHaL, which covers more than 9.75 crore LPG consumers, is perhaps the world’s largest cash transfer program as compared to similar programs in other countries, such as China, Mexico and Brazil.

PaHaL scheme:

PaHaL aims to reduce diversion and eliminate duplicate or bogus LPG connections. Under PaHaL, LPG cylinders are sold at market rates and entitled consumers get the subsidy directly into their bank accounts. This is done either through an Aadhaar linkage or a bank account linkage.

  • The scheme has witnessed massive enrolment in a short span of time.
    The scheme will cover over 15.3 crore consumers across 676 districts of the country. Currently over 6.5 crore consumers i.e. 43% have already joined the scheme and will receive subsidy in their bank account.
  • It has also has put in place various mechanisms to simplify enrolment and enhance consumer convenience, and thus, only 1.09 lakh complaints have been received so far, which constitute a mere 0.1% of the transactions. Over 85% of the complaints have been resolved.
  • Preliminary data from 54 districts indicate that the growth of subsidised LPG has reduced significantly accompanied by a corresponding increase in sale of commercial LPG. This indicates that the scheme will enable substantive savings in subsidy which can then be deployed for other productive purposes, without reducing any entitlements of existing consumers. 
  • The success of the scheme is a result of an intensive Information Education Campaign comprising advertising through various means, direct reaching out to consumers, and dealer level campaigns.
  • DBTL is designed to ensure that the benefit meant for the genuine domestic customer reaches them directly and is not diverted. By this process public money will be saved.

 

Sources: PIB.

 

DBT can plug PDS leakages: study

A new study has estimated that 46.7 per cent or 25.9 million metric tonnes (MMTs) of the grains (rice and wheat), released through the PDS, did not reach the intended beneficiaries in 2011-12 due to leakages. The study was based on the latest NSSO data.

Important observations made by the study:

  • According to the study Chhattisgarh was the best performing State with 0 per cent diversion. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were among the better performers with 11.1 per cent and 12.2 per cent leakages respectively.
    Poor States such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal delivered greater proportion of off-taken grains to the poor.
  • The worst-performing State was Manipur where 97.8 per cent of the grains failed to reach beneficiaries, followed by Daman and Diu where leakages were 95.8 per cent. In Delhi, 82.6 per cent of the grains were diverted.
  • The report makes a case for shifting the support to the poor from the highly subsidised price policy to Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) of cash transfers through the Jan Dhan Yojana dovetailed with Aadhaar. The researchers estimate that this could result in savings of up to Rs.33,087 crore annually in food subsidy bills.
  • The study questions the need for the PDS not only on account of its inefficiency owing to high leakages but also on equity grounds. Five States — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal — which are home to close to 60 per cent of India’s poor, accounted for almost 50 per cent of the total grain leakage in the country.
  • Examining whether the PDS is tuned to help abolish poverty, the paper says that the major beneficiaries of the PDS are people from States that have a smaller number of poor.
  • It has, however, cautioned that the better-than-normal efficiency of some States, reflected in the findings, could be the result of state-run, food-based welfare schemes supplementing the central PDS. Chhattisgarh covers 90 per cent of its population, while Tamil Nadu covers close to 100 per cent of its population and both have greater per card entitlement relative to the centre-run scheme.
  • The study also says that DBT can plug leakages, reach the vulnerable segments of population, not interfere with markets of food, result in savings to the Centre, while still giving a better deal to consumers.

The PDS operates through a network of roughly 5.00,000 fair price shops (FPS) across the country and is likely the largest public network of its type in the world, currently distributing roughly 50-55 MMT of grains annually. The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 also relies on this vehicle to deliver food security to 67 per cent of population (75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban) with an estimated distribution of about 61.4 MMT of grains.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Disparity divides districts: study

The first assessment of the level of development of India’s sub-districts has revealed wide variations within the same district.

Details of the Study:

To measure the extent of backwardness, the study team looked at five indicators

  1. Agricultural workers as a proportion of all workers.
  2. Female literacy rate.
  3. Access to electricity.
  4. Access to water and sanitation.
  5. Access to banking.
  • The study found that in 27 districts there were sub-districts that made it to both the top 10% as well as the bottom 10 per cent. Similarly, there were 92 districts with sub-districts that made it to both the top 20% and bottom 20%, and 166 districts accounting for sub-districts among the top 30% and bottom 30%. The researchers called these India’s “polarised districts.”
  • One factor systematically common to the least developed sub-districts across the country was the presence of Scheduled Tribes (STs). Typically many of these tribal areas are mineral rich, with a lot of mining operations generating economic activity and development in a few pockets. But still the results were largely unseen.
  • The study also showed that India’s most developed sub-districts are some of its smallest ones, where services can presumably be delivered more easily, those located in the biggest cities and in terms of States, those in Kerala.


Sources: The Hindu.

 

 

4 surviving copies of Magna Carta reunited

The four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta have been brought together for the first time here as part of celebrations to mark its 800th anniversary.

What is Magna Carta?

‘Magna Carta’ is Latin and means “Great Charter”. The Magna Carta was one of the most important documents of Medieval England.

  • Magna Carta is considered one of the first steps towards parliamentary democracy and includes the principle that no one is above the law, including the king.
  • It was signed on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede.
  • The document was a series of written promises between the king and his subjects that he, the king, would govern England and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law. Magna Carta was an attempt by the barons to stop a king – in this case John – abusing his power with the people of England suffering.
  • It was drafted to make peace between the unpopular King and rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

 

One-rank one-pension scheme soon

The Defence Ministry has fast-tracked work on ‘one-rank one-pension’ scheme. The defence minister has also assured that the scheme will soon be put in place.

One-rank one-pension scheme

This is a scheme which will ensure that soldiers of the same rank and the same length of service receive the same pension, irrespective of their retirement date. 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.

  • The difference in the pension of present and past pensioners in the same rank occurs on account of the number of increments earned by the defence personnel in that rank.
  • 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.

The implementation of one rank, one pension is also expected to push 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.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB.

 

Several posts vacant in Panchayati Raj institutions due to education criteria

The impact of the amended Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, to include minimum educational qualification as eligibility criteria for contesting the Panchayat elections, is now becoming visible with reports of posts going vacant pouring in from across the State.

  • The amendment has also forced the contestants to go for fake mark sheets and transfer certificates.
  • In the first two phases of polling, seven posts of sarpanchs are lying vacant and 170 were elected unopposed. For Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti’s 5 and 32 candidates respectively have been elected unopposed.

 

Background:

An ordinance was promulgated prescribing minimum educational qualifications to contest in local body elections in Rajasthan, and effectively keep out illiterate persons from the democratic process.
Rajasthan government had implemented a provision related to minimum educational qualification for contesting Panchayat polls in the state.

  • The ordinance fixing a minimum educational qualification, which has received the Governor’s assent, amends the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994.
  • The ordinance stipulates that a member of a zila parishad or panchayat samiti should have acquired secondary education. While the panchayat sarpanch of a Scheduled area should have passed Class 5, his counterpart in Non-Scheduled areas should have cleared Class 8.

It is being argued that the ordinance violates the inclusive spirit of the 73rd and 74th Amendments and served as an “exit for illiterate people”.

Why was it done?

  • According to the government, an elected representative with a basic education will be better placed to stop the embezzlement of funds at the panchayat level.
  • Supporters also claim that this is a progressive step and ensures that dummy/proxy candidates are not fighting elections which come from local families who are traditionally in politics in villages.

Opposition:

The political opposition, local communities and civil society groups have been arguing that the change in law is discriminatory to a large section of the rural population, particularly women.

Literacy level in Rajasthan:

  • 2001 Census shows that 82.5 percent of the people above 20 years of age in rural Rajasthan did not have formal education beyond class 5 or primary level.
  • Rural literacy rates in Rajasthan are 76.16 per cent for men, and an abysmal 45.8 per cent for women.
  • In Rajasthan, the literacy rate of women in rural areas is only 45.8 per cent, which is lower than the national literacy rate of 57.93 per cent.
  • In tribal areas, the situation is even worse, with the literacy rate of women being 25.22 per cent.

Sources: The Hindu, IE, PIB.

 

Commons to vote on mitochondrial therapy

A radical new approach developed in the United Kingdom for the treatment of a potentially wide spectrum of inherited — and hitherto incurable — diseases has run into controversial waters. The technique known as ‘mitochondrial replacement therapy’ or MRT will be decided by a parliamentary vote.

  • Vote in the House of Commons will decide whether the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority can grant licences to allow the replacement therapy to be conducted in U.K. clinics.

What is mitochondrial therapy?

This therapy treats women with mitochondrial disease (a range of inherited diseases caused by defective mitochondria, the elements in the cell that generate energy), by replacing the dysfunctional mitochondria carried by a woman who wishes to conceive with the healthy mitochondria of a donor. The egg is then fertilised with the partner’s sperm through IVF. The embryo thus created is one technically cleansed of the mutated mitochondrial DNA that the mother originally carried.

Why is it being opposed?

Many people are opposing the technique on the grounds that the manipulation of the nuclear DNA of two women and a man would create three-parent babies, leading to what they warn is a “Frankenstein
future“.

Human mitochondrial disorders are among the most common genetic diseases, affecting around one in 6500 people. They are believed to be the reason behind 150 known conditions.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Agni-V’s canister-based configuration validated

With the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully conducting three Agni-V missions in a row, including the latest canister-based flight test, only one more trial would be conducted jointly with the user before it gets inducted into armed forces by year-end.

  • India successfully carried out the maiden canister-based trial of its most potent missile Agni-V, which has a strike range of over 5000 kms and can carry a nuclear warhead of over one tonne, off Odisha coast recently.
  • It is a three stage, solid propellant “missile.
    It will extend India’s reach all over Asia, parts of Africa and parts of Europe.
  • Agni V can be configured to launch small satellites. It can also be used to shoot down enemy satellites in orbits. Once fired, it cannot be stopped. It can, however, be launched only after a decision by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

India’s position:

  • India has already joined an elite club of nations that possess the ICBM launch capability when the maiden test-firing of Agni-V was successfully conducted in April, 2012.
  • Only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United States and Britain, along with Israel, have so far possessed such long-range missiles.

Canister launch system:

  • The canister-launch system is used to impart higher road mobility, the missile will give the armed forces much greater operational flexibility than the earlier-generation of Agni missiles.
  • Made of maraging steel, a canister must provide a hermetically sealed atmosphere that preserves the missile for years.
  • During firing, the canister would absorb enormous stresses when a thrust of 300 to 400 tonnes is generated to eject the 50 tonnes missile.
  • India is using this technology for the first time.

Sources: The Hindu, BS, Wiki.