Insights Daily Current Affairs, 24 February 2018
Topic: Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav-2018
Context: To celebrate the idea of unity in diversity, the Ministry of Culture is organising the the Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav at Gwalior.
The Mahotsav will cover a profusion of art forms from classical and folk, music and dance, theatre to literature and the visual arts and would offer the chance to experience the best in established and emerging virtuosity.
Facts for Prelims:
- The Ministry of Culture is organising the event under the Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat matrix.
- The event will be held in Madhya Pradesh.
Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat:
The Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat programme was launched by the Prime Minister on 31st October, 2016 to promote engagement amongst the people of different states/UTs so as to enhance mutual understanding and bonding between people of diverse cultures, thereby securing stronger unity and integrity of India.
- For Prelims: Sanskriti Mahotsav, Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat.
- For Mains: Need for cultural integrity.
Topic: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.
Heavy Water Board
Context: Heavy Water Board has signed a collaborative agreement with M/s Clearsynth, Mumbai for sale of 20 tonnes of Heavy Water in a year for development of deuterium labeled compounds, NMR Solvents, d-labeled Active Pharma Ingredients (APIs). This marks the beginning of an important era in the annals of Indian Nuclear industry leading to societal benefits for the masses.
About Heavy water board:
Heavy Water Board (HWB) is a constituent unit under the Department of Atomic Energy.
The organisation is primarily responsible for production of Heavy Water (D2O) which is used as a ‘moderator’ and ‘Coolant’ in nuclear power as well as research reactors. Other than Heavy Water, HWB is also engaged with production of different types of nuclear grade solvents and extraction of rare materials.
What is Heavy Water?
Heavy water or deuterium oxide (D2O) is a form of water that contains a large amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium which is also known as heavy hydrogen. Deuterium differs from the hydrogen which is usually found in water. Heavy water may be deuterium protium oxide (DHO) or deuterium oxide (D2O). The increase in mass due to the presence of deuterium gives it a different chemical and physical property compared to normal water.
Heavy water is used in certain types of nuclear reactors, where it acts as a neutron moderator to slow down neutrons. The different applications and uses of heavy water are:
- Nuclear magnetic resonance.
- In Organic chemistry.
- Fourier transform spectroscopy.
- Neutron moderator.
- Neutrino detector.
- Metabolic rate testing in physiology and biology.
- Tritium production.
For Prelims: Heavy water board, D2O- features, how is it different from light water.
Topic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
US tightens H-1B visa rules
Context: The US government has announced a new policy that has made the procedure of issuing H-1B visas relatively harder than the existing one. The updated policy guidance is in sync with President Donald Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Executive order.
- The H-1B visa program generally allows a foreign employee to work for a specific sponsoring American employer. As is true in many employment situations, the location of work can change. Under the new policy, the company would have to walk an extra mile to prove that its H-1B employee at a third-party worksite has specific and non-qualifying speculative assignments in speciality occupation.
- New employers must provide contracts and itineraries for employees who will work at a third-party location. This includes evidence of actual work assignments, which may include technical documentation, milestone tables, marketing analysis, cost-benefit analysis, brochures, and funding documents.
- When H-1B beneficiaries are placed at third-party worksites, petitioners must demonstrate that they have specific and non-speculative qualifying assignments in a specialty occupation for that beneficiary for the entire time requested on the petition.
Implications of this move:
The Indian IT companies are among the major beneficiaries of H-1B visas with a significant number of employees deployed at third-party worksites. IT workers from India are always in high demand in American banking, travel and commercial services.
What is H-1B Visa?
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year.
The aim of the H1B visa programme was to supplement the US workforce with high-skilled workers to do jobs that Americans are not skilled to do, not to replace the US workers. But over time, there have been many grumblings that many companies use the H1B visa to replace American workers with foreign ones, as the latter can be hired at lower salaries without compromising on the skill sets. In some cases, American employees have alleged that they were made to train H1B holders to do their own jobs, and then fired.
- For Prelims: H- 1B visa.
- For Mains: Recent changes in the policy, impact on Indian diaspora, solutions.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
TAPI gas pipeline
Context: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India recently ceremonially broke ground on the Afghan section of an ambitious, multi-billion dollar gas pipeline expected to help ease energy deficits in South Asia.
About TAPI gas pipeline project:
The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline (TAPI) Project is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank. The TAPI pipeline will have a capacity to carry 90 million standard cubic metres a day (mscmd) gas for a 30-year period and be operational in 2018.
India and Pakistan would get 38 mscmd each, while 14 mscmd will be supplied to Afghanistan. From the Galkynysh field in Turkmensitan, the pipeline will run to Herat and Kandahar province of Afghanistan, before entering Pakistan. In Pakistan, it will reach Multan via Quetta before ending at Fazilka (Punjab) in India.
Benefits of this project for India:
- Energy is a growing need, and even if India is able to source energy from other countries like Iran and further afield, both the proximity and abundance of Turkmenistan’s reserves, that rank fourth in the world, will make it an attractive proposition.
- It will bring India much needed energy at competitive pricing, and could easily supply about 15% of India’s projected needs by the time it is completed in the 2020s.
- This project also gives India an opportunity to secure its interest in Central Asia. TAPI’s success will also ensure that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan find ways of cooperating on other issues as well.
Benefits for other countries:
- Holding 4% of the gas reserves of the world, presently, Turkmenistan exports gas to only very few countries. But, with the TAPI pipeline, it will be able to diversify its exports to nations like India, Pakistan etc. Turkmenistan will also earn a lot of revenue by these exports.
- The potential extension of the pipeline to the Gwadar Port in Pakistan will also enable Pakistan to export gas to several countries, thereby increasing its share of revenue.
- Since the pipeline passes through Afghanistan, it will earn some revenue too in the name of transit fees.
- This project could easily supply a quarter of Pakistan’s gas needs. It will also reopen a historic route that reconnects South Asia to Central Asia, in the way it was before the British Empire sealed it off.
Challenges before the project:
Security issues: The TAPI project crosses Afghanistan and Pakistan, the former deeply unstable and of uncertain future, the latter plagued by terrorist incidents and infested with militant groups that may find a gas pipeline easy pickings. Ensuring the security of those involved in the construction of the pipeline and then extending that security along its length once operational is going to be a challenge for all the signatories.
Maintenance: After its completion, maintenance in the presence of terrorist elements in Afghanistan and in the restive areas of Pakistan will also be a challenge.
India- Pakistan tensions: Another critical issue is the fraught relations of Pakistan with India and Afghanistan.
Countries like India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing a severe energy crisis and badly need such a resource to give an impetus to their ailing economies. It is important for these countries to increase cooperation and take decisive action against the terrorists who are the main hurdle to any peace and development process. If utilized properly, the gas reserves can change the destiny of the people of these countries. It is a win-win situation for all stakeholder states and they must make up for lost time to explore this channel of prosperity.
- For Prelims: TAPI pipeline.
- For Mains: TAPI- need, issues and solutions.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.
ASEAN-India Research Training Fellowship (AIRTF)
Context: Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has entered into a partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India to implement and execute the ASEAN India Research Training Fellowship (AIRTF).
About AIRTF scheme:
The AIRTF scheme was introduced to promote scientific cooperation between India and ASEAN member countries. The objective is to support and facilitate mobility of young talented researchers from ASEAN member countries to India to conduct short term research and training under the guidance of Indian host scientists.
Aim: The scheme aims at capacity building of 50 young researchers annually from ASEAN member countries in science and technology domain and provide complete financial support for a period of six months that includes to and fro travel, sustenance allowance and research contingency.
What it does? The scheme provides opportunities to researchers from ASEAN member countries to undertake research and training for a period of 6 months at Academic and Research Institutions in India.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
Ombudsman scheme for NBFCs
Context: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has issued an ombudsman scheme for non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), offering a grievance redressal mechanism for their customers. The scheme will come into effect immediately.
Who will be the ombudsman?
An officer at the RBI not below the rank of general manager will be appointed by the regulator as the ombudsman with territorial jurisdiction being specified by the central bank. The tenure of each ombudsman cannot exceed three years and can be reduced by the regulator if needed.
Who can file the complaint?
Any customer or person can file a compliant with the ombudsman on various grounds like non-payment or inordinate delay in payment of interest, non-repayment of deposits, lack of transparency in loan agreement, non-compliance with RBI directives on fair practices code for NBFCs, levying of charges without sufficient notice to the customers and failure or delay in returning the securities documents despite repayment of dues among others. Only written complaints or those in electronic format will be accepted.
If a complaint is not settled by agreement within a specified period as the ombudsman may allow the parties, he may, after affording the parties a “reasonable opportunity to present their case, either in writing or in a meeting, pass an award either allowing or rejecting the complaint”. The scheme also allows a person to appeal in case of dissatisfaction with any award by the ombudsman.
The ombudsman may also award compensation not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees to the complainant, taking into account the loss of time, expenses incurred, harassment and mental anguish suffered by the complainant.
The ombudsman will be required to send a report to the RBI governor annually on 30 June containing general review of the activities of his office during the preceding financial year and other information required by the central bank.
- For Prelims: Ombudsman.
- For Mains: Need for ombudsman.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) Programme
Context: India has invited Saudi participation in Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) Programme.
About SPR programme:
To ensure energy security, the Government of India had decided to set up 5 million metric tons (MMT) of strategic crude oil storages at three locations namely, Visakhapatnam, Mangalore and Padur (near Udupi). These strategic storages would be in addition to the existing storages of crude oil and petroleum products with the oil companies and would serve as a cushion during any external supply disruptions.
- In the 2017-18 budget, it was announced that two more such caverns will be set up Chandikhole in Jajpur district of Odisha and Bikaner in Rajasthan as part of the second phase.
- The construction of the Strategic Crude Oil Storage facilities is being managed by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL), a Special Purpose Vehicle, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Oil Industry Development Board (OIDB) under the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.
Need for strategic oil reserves:
In 1990, as the Gulf war engulfed West Asia, India was in the throes of a major energy crisis. By all accounts India’s oil reserves at the time were adequate for only three days. While India managed to avert the crisis then, the threat of energy disruption continues to present a real danger even today.
- It is unlikely that India’s energy needs will dramatically move away from fossil fuels in the near future. Over 80% of these fuels come from imports, a majority of which is sourced from West Asia. This is a major strategic risk and poses a massive financial drain for an embattled economy and its growing current account deficit.
- To address energy insecurity, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government mooted the concept of strategic petroleum reserves in 1998. Today, with India consuming upwards of four million barrels of crude every day (January 2015 figures), the case for creating such reserves grows stronger.
Facts for Prelims:
In January 2016, India signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates that allows the Gulf OPEC country to fill half of the underground crude oil storage facility of ISPRL at Mangalore. Therefore, the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company will store about 6 million barrels of oil at Mangalore.
- For Prelims: India’s strategic oil reserves- locations, ISPRL.
- For Mains: Energy security, need for SPR.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Context: In a major relief to the Telangana government, the Supreme Court has refused to intervene in an order granted by the Hyderabad High Court suspending the order of the National Green Tribunal at Delhi staying the construction of the Kaleswaram Lift Irrigation Project. The NGT bench at Chennai had on October 5, 2017 directed the Telangana government to stay the construction of the project.
What’s the project?
The Kaleshwaram project is an off-shoot of the original Pranahitha-Chevella Lift Irrigation Scheme taken up by the Congress government in 2007 when Andhra Pradesh was not divided. After the formation of Telangana in 2014, the TRS government redesigned the project on the ground that the original plan had too many environmental obstacles and had very low water storage provision — only about 16.5 tmc ft.
After conducting a highly advanced Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) survey for a couple of months, the government separated the original component serving the Adilabad area as the Pranahitha project and renamed the rest as Kaleshwaram by redesigning the head works, storage capacity and the canal system based on the data of availability of water at different locations along the course of the Godavari and its tributaries.
The Kaleshwaram project has provision for the storage of about 148 tmc ft with plans of utilising 180 tmc ft by lifting at least 2 tmc ft water every day for 90 flood days. The project is designed to irrigate 7,38,851 hectares (over 18.47 lakh acres) uplands in the erstwhile districts of Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Warangal, Medak, Nalgonda and Ranga Reddy.
According to engineers, KLIP has many unique features, including the longest tunnel to carry water in Asia, running up to 81 km, between the Yellampally barrage and the Mallannasagar reservoir. The project would also utilise the highest capacity pumps, up to 139 MW, in the country to lift water.
Sources: the hindu.
Facts for Prelims:
5th international data science summit:
Context: 5th international data science summit was recently held in New Delhi. The conference was attended by around 130 delegates from Corporate Officers and executives involved in strategy, Government Policy Planners, Academic institutions, Electrical utilities, Researchers and Developers along with Standards Development Organizations.
Organizer: Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the National Standards Body of India, in association with Data Science Foundation organized the summit.
‘Dhanush’ ballistic missile:
Context: Nuclear-capable ‘Dhanush’ ballistic missile was recently test fired.
- It is a surface-to-surface missile. It has a strike range of 350 km.
- It is a naval variant of the indigenously-developed ‘Prithvi’ missile.
- It is capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg and hitting both land and sea-based targets.
- The single-stage, liquid-propelled ‘Dhanush’, has already been inducted into the defence services.
- It is one of the five missiles developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP).