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BRICS nations make the first move with local currencies

The BRICS nations inked a pact to use their own currencies instead of the U.S. dollar in issuing credit or grants among each other and pushed for the early conclusion of an India – initiated U.N. comprehensive anti – terror law. The decision came after a restricted session that deliberated on the international situation, financial situation, climate and security. This stand was also endorsed by Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Brazilian, Russian and South African counterparts Dilma Rousseff, Dmitry Medvedev and Jacob Zuma respectively.

The summit also spoke of a reserve currency other than the dollar but officials pointed out that the road was long and required extensive deliberations among all the major countries besides the BRICS grouping.

On the anti – terror law, the declaration reiterated the BRICS’ “strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed that there can be no justification, whatsoever, for any acts of terrorism.” The proposed treaty criminalizes all forms of terror but was stalled due to differences over the definition of the word terrorism. But the BRICS leaders said they were “determined to strengthen our cooperation in countering this global threat. They identified cyber crime as another growing threat.
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Africa’s first carbon exchange

Kenya opened Africa’s first climate exchange platform that is expected to unlock trade in carbon credits on the continent and benefit small scale projects. Carbon markets are intended to cut the cost of fighting climate change by giving companies the flexibility either to reduce their own greenhouse gases or buy emissions permits. The Africa Carbon Exchange in east Africa’s biggest economy will provide holders of carbon credits with easier access to global markets and information, which in turn is expected to increase foreign investor interest in the region. The exchange will pull a lot of foreign direct investments through development of more carbon projects.

Kenya has 17 projects awaiting registration by the executive board of the CDM, while three have already received approval. In the next five years, Kenya will have attracted about $1 billion in foreign direct investments worth of business in the energy sector alone. Schemes, like those under the U.N. Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism ( CDM ), promote investments in emission – reducing projects in the developing world by companies and governments in rich nations. In return for building wind farms or other projects, such investments can earn valuable carbon offsets called certified emission reductions ( CERs ) that can be sold for profit or used to meet mandatory targets to cut emissions.

Interest from Other Countries

ACX had received severed enquiries from other African countries Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda interested in trading their credits. Green Next Sustainability Ltd, a Kenyan environmental management consulting firm, has been selling credits to international buyers who have access to global markets, but had to contend with low earnings due to high transactional costs.

Socio – Economic and Caste Census 2011 begins

The 1st ever post independence Socio – Economic and Caste Census 2011 began on 29th June, 2011 from the Sankhola village of Hazemara block in West Tripura District. It is a door – to – door census in the entire country. This massive exercise will pave the way to identify the households living below the poverty line in rural and urban areas of the country. The entire process will be completed by end of 2011 – 2012. The results relating to the identification of poor households would be utilized in the 12th Five Year Plan ( 2012 – 2013 to 2016 – 2017 ). The BPL Census will be conducted by State Governments / Union Territory Administrations with the technical and financial support of the Ministry of Rural Development ( MoRD ).

The Census would be based on a self – declaration model of the respondents. The information would be verified and approved by the Gram Sabha. Procedure for filing claims and objections and its disposal will be prescribed separately. Low cost handheld device will be used for collection of data in Socio Economic Census 2011. It would reduce the time required in processing the data after collection in the field. Bharat Electronic Ltd. ( BEL ) is involved in the production of this device on large scale.

National Informatics Centre ( NIC ) will develop the Management of Information System ( MIS ) for the management of the database of Socio Economic Census 2011 and to facilitate its subsequent use by the MoRD, other ministries and State Governments for their own requirements it may be noted that for the Identification of BPL ( below poverty line ) Households in Rural Areas the suggestions of the Expert Group chaired by Dr NC Saxena and a pilot study carried out in 29 States / Union Territories have been the basis of the methodology to conduct the Census in the rural areas.

It has been decided to include ( a ) households without shelter, ( b ) destitutes / living on alms, ( c ) manual scavengers, ( d ) Primitive Tribal Groups, and ( e ) legally released bonded labourers, in the BPL list. These households will have the highest priority for inclusion in the BPL list. The remaining households will be identified as poor from the angle of deprivation to which they are subjected to. The deprivation of the households is assessed from the following deprivation indicators :

  • Households with only one room with kucha walls and kucha roof;
  • Households with no adult member between age 16 to 59;
  • Female headed households with no adult male member between age 16 to 59;
  • Households with any disabled member and no able bodied adult member;
  • SC / ST households;
  • Households with no literate adult above 25 years;
  • Landless households deriving the major part of their income from manual casual labour;

For the households eligible for ranking under deprivation indicators as per paragraph, a deprivation score would be derived for each household by adding up the number of deprivations satisfied by the household. This score will vary from a minimum 0 to maximum 7. The order of priority for inclusion of households in the BPL list would be from largest number of deprivations to smallest number of deprivations. For the purpose of coverage of income re – distributive anti – poverty programs and welfare schemes of the Government, households eligible for compulsory inclusion will have highest priority, followed by households with higher deprivation scores.

Several households would be automatically excluded from the BPL list. These are :

  • Households owning Motorized Two / Three / Four Wheelers / Fishing boats ( which require registration );
  • Households owning mechanized Three / Four wheeler agricultural equipments such as tractors, harvesters etc;
  • Households having Kisan Credit Card with the credit limit of ₹ 50,000 and above;
  • Households with any member as Government Employee : gazetted and non – gazetted employees of Centre government, State government, Public Sector Undertakings, Government – aided autonomous bodies and local bodies. This will exclude incentive and other honorarium based workers like ASHA, Anganwadi workers etc;
  • Households with Enterprises registered with the Government for any purpose : any non agricultural enterprise registered with the Central or State Governments;
  • Households with any member in the family earning more than ₹ 10,000 per month;
  • Households paying income tax or professional tax;
  • Households with three or more rooms with pucca walls and pucca roof;
  • Households owning Refrigerator;
  • Households owning landline phones;
  • Households owning 2.5 acres or more irrigated land with at least one irrigation equipment such as diesel / electric operated borewell / tubewell;
  • Households owning 5 acres or more land irrigated for two or more crop seasons;
  • Households owning 7.5 acres or more land with at least one irrigation equipment such as diesel / electric operated borewell / tubewell.

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Sri Krishna Committee Report

Srikrishna committee report on Telengana Problem, which was made public on 7th January, 2011, favoured united Andhra Pradesh. It recommended six options to solve the Telangana problem while stating that a continuing demand for a separate Telangana deserves some attention and it is not entirely unjustified. The options are as following :

  1. The Srikrishna committee report suggested that a united Andhra Pradesh with constitutional measures for empowerment of Telengana region would be the most workable option on the Telangana issue. A statutory empowered Telangana regional council could be created to meet the demands of Telangana region.
  2. The Srikrishna committee report on Telangana issue said that the second best option is to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Seema Andhra with Hyderabad as capital of Telangana and a new capital for Seema Andhra.
  3. The Srikrishna committee report suggested other options as well which included bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Seemaandhra with Hyderabad as a union territory and the two states getting their own capitals later on.
  4. The Srikrishna committee report also suggested that Andhra should be bifurcated into Rayala Telengana and coasted Andhra region and making Hyderabad an integral part of Rayala Telangana.
  5. The Srikrishna committee report advised other option like bifurcating Andhra Pradesh into Seema Andhra and Telangana and declaring enlarged Hyderabad Metropolis as a separate union territory.
  6. The committee also brought forward the option to maintain the status quo. However, the committee termed it as the least favoured and impractical solution to the Telangana problem.

Facts about Srikrishna Committee Report

  • The Srikrishna committee report which is of 461 pages, examined in details issues relating to the historical background of Andhra Pradesh and other issues like regional, economical, employment and matters related to Hyderabad metropolis.
  • The five – member Srikrishna committee was set up in February 2010 under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Justice BN Srikrishna and it had submitted its report on the 30th December, 2010.

Impact of Srikrishna Committee Report

Pro – Telengana groups have called for state wide bandhs and announced plans to launch agitations. The report also stirred the Gorkhaland issue once again with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha declaring that they would settle with nothing less than Gorkhaland as a separate state.

The Root Cause behind Telangana Problem

Since the formation of Andhra Pradesh State in 1953, people of Telangana region feel that they have not got their due of development share in the state. They are demanding Telangana as a separate state with Hyderabad as its capital. However, people from the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema who have settled in Hyderabad long back are apprehensive about the idea of separate Telangana because it could jeopardise their economic interests like employment, property and investments in the state capital.
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Construction of 3rd Research Base at Antarctica launched

Foundation stone for India’s 3rd Research Base at Antarctica “Bharati” was laid down on 11th January, 2011 at New Delhi. Dakshin Gangotri was the first Indian station in Antarctica established in 1983 – 84 while “Maitri” was the second station on mountainous – ‘Schumacher Oasis’ established in 1988. The construction of the new research station – Bharati – at Larsemann Hills, east Antarctica will be completed by 2012. India also has a research station – Himadri – at Svalbard region of Arctic. The Bharati will be a unique station with advanced facilities. It will accommodate around 70 people. 35 scientists and 10 logistic people will remain throughout the year.

They will experiment on movement of platonic plates, microbes surviving in this atmosphere, magnetic properties, aerosol etc. The station will incur the cost of ₹ 200 crore. “Bharati” will undertake multi – disciplinary research and observation studies including biological, geological, physical, chemical, suspended particulates in oceans, aerosols, meteorological sciences. Polar Research Program of India includes Polar Regions, Arctic and Antarctica, with their wilderness, mysterious nature and scientific potential have always inspired mankind to launch innumerable expeditions to unravel the secrets hidden under the vast expense of snow and ice. India entered the Antarctica foray in 1981 with, launch of its first scientific expedition to Antarctica. In all thirty expeditions to Antarctica have been launched till date with one special.

150 years of Taxation

For the first time in India’s minting history, the Union Government decided in February 2011 to mint coins of ₹ 150 denomination to mark 150 years of taxation in India. The special coins will also be brought out in five – rupee denomination on completion of 150 years, from 1860 to 2010, of the Income Tax department. The Department of Economic Affairs under the Finance Ministry has notified the order to mint coins of ₹ 150 denomination for the first time. The ₹ 150 coin, made of an alloy of silver, copper, nickel and zinc, will have an international design with Satyameva Jayate and India on the front side and a portrait of Chanakya and lotus with honeybee on the reverse. Taxation, in one form or another, as a source of revenue, is an ancient concept. Kautilya in the “Arthashastra” mentions the management of treasury, including tax collection, as one of the essential elements of a State. That the purpose of taxation was meeting expenditure for fulfilling the various functions of the State and for public welfare is also an equally – old view. Both these ideas continue to be relevant fundamentals for tax structures and systems of Nation States of the 21st Century.

It was in 1860, that for the first time in India’s legislative history, a Bill imposing income tax, in its contemporary form, was passed. Since then, income tax stands transformed not only into a measure for mobilizing resources for national development, but also, through its exemptions and deductions, has emerged as a tool for directing investment to priority sectors of the country. The personnel of the Income Tax Department will however, have the continuous challenge of adopting modem management skills and innovative use of technology, to ensure equity and efficiency. This should also help in bringing maximum transparency in the implementation of tax policies and in the collection of taxes.

Taxes in India are levied by the Central Government and the State Governments. Some minor taxes are also levied by the local authorities such the Municipality or the Local Council. The authority to levy a tax is derived from the Constitution of India which allocates the power to levy various taxes between the Centre and the State. An important restriction on this power is Article 265 of the Constitution which states that “No tax shall be levied or collected except by the authority of law.

Therefore each tax levied or collected has to be backed by an accompanying law, passed either by the Parliament or the State Legislature. Tax payer services have improved with the introduction of e – filing of returns, e – payment of taxes, refund banker scheme, speedy and centralized processing of returns. Due to rationalization of the tax structure and improvement in tax administration, direct taxes now contribute about half of the Central Government’s revenues. A major initiative to reform and simplify tax laws has been launched, with the introduction of the Direct Tax Code now under consideration of Parliament.

India’s first Coast Guard academy

With coastal security becoming a major area of conern, India’s first Coast Guard Academy would be set up at Azheekkal near Kannur in north Kerala. As coastal security was a major area of concern, the role of Coast Guard had increased in recent times. It was in view this that the defence ministry decided to set up an academy exclusive to bring out personnel with specialised training in coastal security operations, he said.

Indian Cost Guard had become an important agency in maintaining the security of the territorial waters of the country in view of terrorist threats and increasing presence of pirates. Antony said the academy will have the potential to become one of best such institution in Asia. In ensuring the safety and security of fishermen along the Indian coast was also important. It was the Coast Guard which engages in rescue operations in times of natural calamities like Tsunami and helping the fishermen when they were in distress.

National Health Research Policy

To overcome the weaknesses of the publicly funded health structures that restricted research in priority health areas, the Union Health and Family Planning Ministry has finalized the National Health Research policy. It would maximize the returns on investments in health research through creation of a health research system to priorities, coordinate and facilitate conduct of effective and ethical research and its translation into products, policies and programs aimed at improving health especially of the vulnerable population. It proposes to ensure at least two per cent of the national health funding is utilized for research.

Unlike medical research, health research is comparatively a new concept. It goes beyond illness to include the research into the various determinants of illness as well as health. Health research, therefore, is systematic generation of knowledge that can be used to promote, restore, maintain and / or protect health of individuals and populations.

Objectives of the National Health Research Policy

  • Identify priorities for effective and ethical health research to enable the achievement of the objectives of NHP 2002, NRHM, Bharat Nirman and National Food security Act as well as global commitments such as MDG and IHR, ensuring that the results of health research are translated in to action.
  • Foster inter – sectoral coordination in health research including all departments within the Government, Private Sector and the Academia to promote innovation and ensure effective translation to encourage / accelerate indigenous production of diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, medical devices etc.
  • Focus on the marginalized, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged sections of society.
  • Strengthen national networks between research institutes, academia and service institutes, and encourage PPP.
  • Put in place strategies and mechanisms for assessing the cost effectiveness and cost benefits of interventions for health.
  • Develop and manage human resources and infrastructure for health research and ensure that international collaborative research contributes to national health.

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The National Health Research Management Forum ( NHRMF )

The National Health Research Policy envisages a System wherein all present and prospective players have their own space. However, an overarching National Health Research Management Forum is proposed, having representation of all key stakeholders, the DHR as its Secretariat.

Composition :

The NHRMF will be chaired by the Minister of Health & Family Welfare and Cochaired by Minister of Science & Technology. The Minister(s) of State for Health would be the Vice – chairperson(s). The Secretariat shall be in the DHR and its Secretary shall be the Member – Secretary. All Secretaries of various Departments in S&T would be the members, DGHS and 8 – 10 eminent scientists / public health experts ( numbers flexible ) as well selected representatives from State Governments would be the other members.

Functions :

  • To advise on and evolve national health research policies and priorities and to evolve mechanisms and action plans for their implementation.
  • To develop a 5 year projection of the plans for health research and to prepare an annual National health research plan.
  • To do a mid – Plan appraisal for course correction, as needed.
  • To promote the development of health research activities in the country.
  • To review biomedical & health research management, and suggest strategies to overcome problems in implementation of policies.
  • To suggest mechanisms to nurture a scientific environment to attract talent and to develop human resources for biomedical and health research; and
  • To facilitate utilization and dissemination of research results and advocacy for Health research.

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National Telecom Policy 2011 announced

The Union Telecom Minister, Kapil Sibal, on 11th April, 2011 announced the basic contours of the National Telecom Policy 2011 ( NTP – 2011 ), which will include for the first time, audit of spectrum held by telecom players, spectrum sharing, reduction in the tenure of renewed telecom licences from 20 years to 10 years, and liberalizing of merger and acquisition norms. Sibal had taken over from scam – tainted telecom minister A Raja on January 1. The details will take a year to finalize to take all stakeholder opinion on board. The NTP will replace the 1999 policy that many regard as being at the root of the 2G scam.

Highlights

  • Mergers, acquisitions should be further liberalized; but each circle should have at least six firms
  • Spectrum sharing should be considered
  • Spectrum to be delinked from license
  • Regular audit of spectrum by agencies
  • License to be renewed after 10 years, not 20 years like earlier

Spectrum :

The telecom ministry has announced that in future 2G spectrum will not come bundled with telecom licenses and that operators would have to pay market – driven prices for spectrum. The minister also announced the formation of a committee to draft the National Spectrum Act, which will be headed by retired judge Shivraj V. Patil. The government will decide soon if TRAI, the telecom regulator, or the CAG will be entrusted with the task of auditing spectrum usage by telecom companies. Rival companies have in the past accused each other of spectrum hoarding and not using this scarce resource in an efficient manner. The ministry will review the existing criteria under which additional spectrum is granted after a mobile operator acquires a specific number of subscribers.

Roll – out obligations : The department of telecom will also review the existing “rollout” obligations of new telecom companies, which it considers has got outdated. Under the current norms, mobile operators are required to cover at least 10 per cent of the district headquarters in each circle within 12 months of the date of award of the license.

M&A : The government is also considering easier merger and acquisition (M&A) rules for telecom companies. The liberalization of M&A rules is expected to drive consolidation in the industry, which is facing intense pressure on margins due to tough competition and low tariffs. At present, there are 10 – 12 operators per circle. Sibal said that while the M&A guidelines need to be liberal, the number of competitors ( including state – run BSNL / MTNL ) in a circle should not be allowed to fall below six. At present, a telecom service provider cannot hold more than 10 per cent state in another operator in the circle where it operates. There is also a lock – in period of three years for companies which got licenses in 2008. This means they cannot exit the venture before the end of this period.

License period to be shortened : In a setback to old telecom companies like Airtel, whose license in some circles is coming up for renewal in 2014, Mr Sibal said such licenses will now be renewed only for 10 years, instead of the existing 20 years. These companies will need to apply for renewal at least 30 months before the date of expiry of their licenses so that the department of telecom has sufficient time to set up policy framework. These firms are likely to pay a high market rate for spectrum when they renew their licenses.
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Jamia Milia Islamia Granted Minority Status

A commission on minority institutions granted minority status to Jamia Millia Islamia on 22nd February, 2011. With this order Jamia Milia University can reserve up to 50% seats for Muslims. The University will not have to give reservation to Dalits, Tribals and OBCs. At present, Jamia University gives 22.5% reservation to SCs / STs, 25% to students from the Jamia School and 3% to the physically handicapped. The Move to get minority status for Jamia intensified after, the University was ordered to implement OBC reservation. Jamia Teachers’ Association and Jamia Old Boys’ Association lodged the petition in NCMEI.

Cho – Lhamu declared highest lake in India

Cho – Lhamu lake, located over 18,000 feet above sea level in North Sikkim, has been declared the highest lake in the country after a survey conducted by the Central Government. The Wetland Atlas, prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, has stated that Cho – Lhamu is the highest lake in the country and the sixth highest lake in the world. The Teesta river, stated to be the lifeline of Sikkim, has its origin in Cho – Lhamu lake, located near the Donkiala Pass and only about five km from the Indo – China border.

Mahatma Gandhi NREGA completes 5 years

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ( MGNREGA ) completed five years of its functioning on 2nd February, 2011. Five years ago on 2nd February, 2005, the scheme was launched from Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh with the objective to provide every rural household a guarantee of at least 100 days of employment during a financial year by providing unskilled manual work in rural areas to those members of the rural household who volunteer to do such work. It is now spread over all the 625 districts of the country. At the MGNREGA Sammelan organised to mark the completion of five years; the Prime Minister said that the transparency and accountability in payment of wages would be ensured by the help of modem ICT enabled techniques like biometric hand held devices.

Objective : NREGA seeks to provide a strong social safety net for the vulnerable groups by providing a fall – back employment source, when other employment alternatives are scarce or inadequate. It serves as a growth engine for sustainable development of an agricultural economy.

Through the process of providing employment on works that address causes of chronic poverty such as drought, deforestation and soil erosion, the Act seeks to strengthen the natural resource base of rural livelihood and create durable assets in rural areas. If effectively implemented, NREGA has the potential to transform the geography of poverty. Unlike the earlier wage employment programs that were allocation based, NREGA is demand driven. Resource transfer under NREGA is based on the demand for employment and this provides another critical incentive to States to leverage the Act to meet the employment needs of the poor. MGNREGA also endeavours to promote new ways of doing business, as a model of governance reform anchored on the principles of transparency and grass root democracy
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Work under the scheme : The type of work under the MGNREGA comprises of water conservation / drought proofing; plantation; roads / culverts; irrigation works; land development; renovation / de – silting of tanks / ponds; flood control & protection works; and other works. Experience shows that the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable groups have sought employment under the program. Focus now is on transparency and accountability with social audits, Biometric enabled – ICT based MGNREGA process for safeguarding the worker’s rights, enhanced productivity and sustainable development.

Beneficiaries : 4.1 Crore households have been provided jobs in 2010 – 2011 upto 1st December, 2010 and 145 crore person – days have been generated. Women constitute 47% while Scheduled Castes account for 28 %, and Scheduled tribes comprise 24% of those working in MGNREGA in 2010 – 2011. The scheme has resulted in the financial inclusion of around 10 crore workers who have opened bank / post office accounts under the Scheme, has encouraged thrift and savings. Expenditure on wages since inception has been around ₹ 74677 crores which is around 70 % of the toted expenditure.

Wages : The average wage earned has risen from ₹ 65 per person day in 2006 to ₹ 100 by 2011. Wage rates under MGNREGA have been enhanced by the Ministry of Rural Development with effect from 1st January, 2011 which has led to 17 – 30% hike in the wages under the premier flagship program of the UPA Government. The wage rates enhancement has been linked to Consumer Price Index for the agricultural labour calculated on the basis of ₹ 100 or the actual wage rate, whichever is higher as on 1st April, 2009. The move is likely to benefit more than 5 crore beneficiaries across the country.

Publications : “Report to People on Mahatma Gandhi NREGA” showcasing the performance under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA over the past five years was released on the occasion along with the “Rozgar Sutra” highlighting the provisions, rights and entitlements under the act. In addition three booklets, namely “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment guarantee Act MGNREGA”, Guide Book for Gram Banchayats in Hindi and English and “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act MGNREGA” for Labourers were also released.

Awards : Ten District Program Coordinators one each from the States of Manipur, Sikkim, Kamataka, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and Twelve Gram Panchayats from seven states were awarded for their exemplary performance under the Scheme of Awards for Best Performing Gram Panchayats for the year 2009 – 2010. These include Khairwahi ( Dondi Block ) and Machandur ( Durg Block ) from Durg District of Chhattisgarh; Kalauna ( Dadwali Block ) from Sirsa District of Haryana; Nedumkandam ( Nedumkandam Block ) from Idukki and Kottukal ( Athiyannoor Block ) from Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala; Panduma ( Mukhed Block ) from Nanded district of Maharashtra; Pampura (Asind Block) from district Bhilwara and Badwas Choti ( Kushalgarh Block ) from Banswara district of Rajasthan; Chuba Phong ( Namathang Block ) from South Sikkim district of Sikkim and Dhamna ( Mauranipur Block ) and Dhamna Khurd ( Chirgaon Block ) from district Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh.

Sanchar Shakti’ project launched :

‘Sanchar Shakti’ project of the Department of Telecommunications was launched by President Ptatibha Ratil on 7th March, 2011. The project is a suite of mobile value – added services ( VAS ) to provide a variety of useful information to women and women’s self – help groups about government schemes and health and social issues, besides inputs related to and training in livelihood, over the mobile phone. Financed by the Universal Service Obligation Funds ( USOFs ), the scheme envisages empowering women, especially in rural areas, with the help of NGOs and other national and international organisations working for the uplift of women.

Sanchar Shakti envisages bringing together the combined efforts and contributions of Department of Telecommunication ( DoT ), Universal Service Obligation Fund ( USOF ), mobile and Mobile Value Added Service Providers, Telecom Equipment Manufacturers and their partner NGOs to use ICT ( Information & Communication Technologies ) to empower rural women. NABARD and U.N Women have also been involved in the development of this scheme.

The Sanchar Shakti scheme includes four categories of projects aimed at rural women’s SHGs :

a) Provision of subsidized mobile VAS subscription to SHGs with a service validity / warranty of at least one year.

b) Setting up of SHG run mobile repair centers in rural areas.

c) Setting up of SHG run modem repair centers in rural areas.

d) Setting up of SHG run solar based mobile / CDMA FWT charging centers in rural areas.

Under the mobile VAS project category, seven pilot projects will be initiated in the different parts of India. The projects are aimed at the facilitating women’s SHGs’ access to ICT enabled services and creation of employment opportunities in the area of ICT enabling services. About 15,000 SHG members are expected to benefit from these initial mobile VAS pilot projects. The Lead Executing Agencies involved in the project are :

Tata Tele Services Ltd ( Uttar Pradesh ), Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd ( Tamil Nadu and Kerala ), Reuters Market Light ( Maharashtra, Uttarakhand ), Unitech Wireless ( Tamil Nadu ), Videocon Telecommunications Ltd ( Tamil Nadu and Puducherry ), Vodafone Essar South Ltd ( Andhra Pradesh ).

The mobile VAS projects would focus on providing the women SHG members with a bundle of informational inputs which are pertinent to their livelihood / entrepreneurial activities and lifestyles. This would comprise information related to markets and financial products, skill enhancement, health, social issues and Government schemes. The mode of delivery would include short messaging service ( SMS ) and interactive voice response systems ( IVRS ). The content and its delivery will be specially customized for the SHG members keeping in mind aspects of socio – cultural background, literacy, language and gender sensitivity. Training and facilitation and monitoring and evaluation would form an integral part of the projects which shall be completed by June – July 2012.

The Universal Service Obligation Fund of India came into being with retrospective effect from 1st April, 2002 with the passing of the Indian Telegraph ( Amendment ) Act 2003, in December 2003. The Fund which is headed by the Administrator, USOF has a mandate of providing access to Telegraph ( Telecommunications ) Services to people in rural and remote areas at reasonable and affordable prices.

Rajiv Gandhi Adhivakta Prashikshan Yojna

Government of India has launched a Scheme named Rajiv Gandhi Adhivakta Prashikshan Yojna ( Rajiv Gandhi Advocate’s Training Scheme ) which envisages selection of 10 young practicing Advocates from each State every year for being imparted professional training. This initiative is in sync with the Supreme Court directive in the esse of State of Maharashtra vs Manubhai Pragaji Vashi ( 1995 ) 5 SCC 730 where the Court had observed that continuing and well organised legal education is absolutely essential reckoning the new trends in the world order and to meet the ever – growing challenges. The main object of the Scheme is to motivate and encourage young talented meritorious lawyers to remain in practice at the Bar at grass root level imparting professional training to them. The Scheme targets young lawyers who are practicing in Magistrate and Munsif Courts, by providing proper professional training for a period of two months so that they may serve the need of law professionals at grass root level. Preference will be given to SC / ST / Other Backward Classes and physically handicapped advocates.

Only talented and meritorious Advocates in actual practice in Magistrate or Munsif courts, not above 30 years of age, are eligible for the selection by the Selection Committee for this training. As per the Scheme, the Selection Committee is to consist of a High Court Judge to be nominated by Chief Justice of that High Court, Additional / Assistant Solicitor – General to that High Court, Chairman, State Bar Council and Advocate – General of the State. The selected candidates shall be provided professional training of two months.

The Training will have two components :

(i) One month training imparted in a National Law School.

(ii) One month training under a Senior / leading Advocate of the place where the candidate practices.

For the purpose of administering the scheme, a National Committee has been constituted. The National Law University, Delhi, in consultation with the Central Government shall –

  • Fix the maximum number of candidates to be selected in a year for each State and Union Territory;
  • Empanel Senior Advocate / Leading Advocate under whom candidates will be placed for training; and
  • From time to time review the progress/success of the scheme and make necessary changes.

In the 12th Five Year Plan, the scheme will be revised for training from 50 candidates from each State.
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Janani – Shishu Suraksha Karyakram ( JSSK )

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the Janani – Shishu Suraksha Karyakram ( JSSK ), a national initiative to make available better health facilities for women and child. Tremendous improvement in health care services has occurred under the initiative of National Rural health Mission started since 2005. The new initiative of JSSK would provide completely free and cashless services to pregnant women including normal deliveries and caesarean operations and sick new born ( up to 30 days after birth ) in Government health institutions in both rural and urban areas. The new JSSK initiative is estimated to benefit more than one crore pregnant women & newborns, who access public health institutions every year in both urban & rural areas.

The benefits are :

  • The Free Entitlements under JSSK would include:
  • Free and Cashless Delivery
  • Free C – Section, Free treatment of sick – new – born up to 30 days
  • Exemption from User Charges
  • Bee Drugs and Consumables, Free Diagnostics
  • Free Diet during stay in the health institutions – 3 days in case of normal delivery and 7 days in case of caesarean section
  • Free Provision of Blood
  • Free Transport from Home to Health Institutions
  • Free Transport between facilities in case of referral as also Drop Back % from Institutions to home after 48hrs stay.
  • Free Entitlements for Sick newborns till 30 days after birth similarly include Free treatment, Free drugs and consumables, Free diagnostics, Free provision of blood, Exemption from user charges, Bee Transport from Home to Health Institutions, Free Transport between facilities in case of referral and Free drop Back from Institutions to home.

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₹ 1100 crores have been provided to the States for drugs, diet and ambulances under NRHM during 2011 – 2012. Institutional deliveries are a key determinant of maternal mortality and quality provision of ante – natal and post – natal services can reduce infant as well as maternal mortality. Janani – Shishu Suraksha Karyakram supplements the cash assistance given to a pregnant woman under Janani Suraksha Yojana and is aimed at mitigating the burden of out of pocket expenses incurred by pregnant women and sick newborns. Besides it would be a major factor in enhancing access to public health institutions and help bring down the Maternal Mortality and Infant mortality rates.

NPTEL National Video Server inaugurated

The National Video Server of the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning ( NPTEL ), which makes the entire NPTEL content available through this server, was inaugurated on 9th February, 2011. With this Video Server located at IIT Madras and connected to 1 Gbps link of National Knowledge Network and 155 Mbps link to the Colleges’ Virtual Private Network ( VPN ) under the National Mission on Education through information & Communication Technology ( NMEICT ), e – content download would be possible for all the Universities and Colleges that have got connectivity under the NMEICT : At present, more than 250 University / University level Institutions and nearly 11000 Colleges are already connected on NKN and College VPN and they could straight away start using or downloading the e – content for their storage and local use. The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning ( NPTEL ) is an Information & Communication Technology based technical knowledge dissemination program in the higher education sector. Its main objective is to increase the reach of high quality engineering and sciences education across our country, which has the potential to transform India into a strong and vibrant knowledge economy. It involves developing cutting edge curricula and delivering the same as video and web courses with free and easy downloads from the NPTEL website at : http://www.nptel.iitm.ac.in. Under NPTEL Phase – 1, 125 courses in web format and 135 courses in video format in technology, engineering and sciences have been developed. These include the corresponding syllabi prescribed by AICTE – approved institutions and programs.

New Museum Gallery on North East Biodiversity opens in Bhubaneswar

The Chief Minister of Odisha, Shri Naveen Patnaik has inaugurated a Museum Gallery on North East Biodiversity in the Regional Museum of Natural History ( RMNH ) Bhubaneswar. This Museum Gallery depicts the natural heritage of North – Eastern India which includes two of the 34 Biodiversity hotspots in the World: Himalayas and Indo – Burma. The Environment Ministry would establish two institutions, the National Centre on Wetlands and Marine Biodiversity in Bhubaneswar, and National Centre on Olive Ridley and Marine Biodiversity at Gahirmata in Odisha.

The Ministry would make efforts to get a digital copy of Jardin de Lorixa, considered to be the earliest scientific documentation of traditional / indigenous knowledge about plants of Odisha, of which only one manuscript is available in Natural History Museum Paris ( France ). India has a very rich diversity of wild plants and animals and is considered as one of the mega diverse country out of 17 mega diverse countries of the world. India also hosts four biodiversity hotspots : the Western Ghats, the Himalayas, the Indo – Burma and Sundaland hotspot out of 34 biodiversity hotspots of the world. The Eastern Himalaya hotspot covers Darjeeling hills of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, and the Indo – Burma hotspot covers all the other Northeastern States.

The lushness of its landscape, the range of communities and geographical and ecological diversity makes North East quite different from other parts of the subcontinent. It is worth to mention that at least 353 new species have been discovered in the Eastern Himalayas between 1998 and 2008, equating to an average of 35 new species finds every year for the last 10 years. North Eastern region has nearly 163 globally threatened species including the One – homed Rhinoceros ( Rhinoceros unicornis ), the Wild Asian Water buffalo ( Bubalus bubalis arnee ) and the region is also home to the Himalayan Newt ( Tylototriton verrucosus ), the only salamander species found within Indian limits. Both plant and animal species are under threat of extinction. Estimates show that about 50 species are being drawn to extinction every day, and at this rate about 25% of present day biodiversity is likely to become extinct during the next 20 – 30 years if appropriate steps are not taken for its conservation.

This gallery will be an added attraction along with the already existing gallery depicting the biodiversity of Odisha with exhibits on Similipal Biosphere Reserve, Mahanadi ecosystem, Bhitarkanika Mangroves and Chilika lagoon along with a unique collection of 47ft skeleton of a baleen whale supported by many educational programmes and activities for public and students. This new gallery on North East Biodiversity is having exhibits depicting Different eco – regions of North East, the course of the mighty river Brahmaputra, Kaziranga – The habitat of one horned Indian rhinoceros, the endemic and endangered avifauna, rich diversity of non human primates, Orchids and rhododendron of North East, New species discoveries from Eastern Himalayas, the hills, waterfalls, sacred groves of Meghalaya and the Loktak lake – a unique habitat of Sangai etc.
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Government Constitutes Committee to Check Food Wastage

Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution has constituted a fifteen member committee to deliberate upon and suggest possible ways and means to check food wastage. Concern has been voiced time to time on the wastage of food items and ostentatious behavior witnessed especially during occasions like marriages / parties / meetings. It has been estimated that about 15 to 20% of food is just wasted in our country at social gatherings.

The Committee will suggest suitable awareness program / public campaign to curb the food wastage. It will also explore various options for introducing legislative and administrative measures in due course. Besides this, Committee will examine how the Government, public sector can set an example by practicing austerity. The Committee will be chaired by Shri Rajiv Agarwal, Secretary, Consumer Affairs.

National Legal E – Library

The ‘National Legal E – Library’ project of the Government is to be dedicated to the nation on 15th August, 2011. The scope of this program is creation and management of the ‘National Legal e – library’ for 933 schools in India, Bar Associations, Government Legal departments etc. and meet the needs of academic librarians, students, faculty and young practitioners. It aims to provide a practitioners view and a comprehensive understanding of core subject areas of law.

  • Easy Access : Campus wide access using IP Authentication,
  • Results Clustering : Familiarises new users with different classes of content by providing an instant, multi faceted analysis of distribution of hits in each result set.
  • Flexible Display and Output Options : Inclusion of full featured tools that allow for printing, emailing and saving.
  • Interoperability : Works with systems you use to manage your electronic holdings through e – journals systems, Article linking Federated search / Metasearch & Citation export to Reference Works.
  • Smart indexing Technology : Helps users reach the information they need by applying controlled vocabulary terms for several different taxonomies.
  • Powerful Source Selection : Identify sources by type, language, topic, geography and other facets.

The project is likely to be implemented in three phases. In the first phase two comprehensive research platforms will be implemented across all law schools in India. In the second phase the services of the comprehensive research platform will be extended to the entire practitioner universe. Further, e – filing and Practice Management will be extended for all the courts in India in this phase. The third phase focuses on sustained usability and development of a comprehensive education development platform. This phase aims at creating a robust system of legal skill enhancement and development.
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National Rural Livelihood Mission launched

National Rural Livelihoods Mission ( NRLM ), one of the major new initiatives under the Ministry of Rural Development to bring the poorest of the poor above the poverty line by ensuring viable livelihood. The Mission aims to ensure that at least one member from each identified rural poor household, preferably a woman, is brought under the Self Help Group ( SHG ) network in a time bound manner.

NRLM would reach out, mobilize and support 7 Crore BPL households across 600 districts, 6000 blocks, 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats, in 6 lakh villages across the country into their self – managed Self Help Groups ( SHGs ) and their federal institutions and livelihoods collectives. It would support them financially and institutionally in all their efforts to get them out of poverty. The poor would be helped to achieve increased access to their rights, entitlements and public services, diversified risk and better social indicators of empowerment. It would enable the vulnerable sections of the society to cope with the challenges in an organized manner with the support of Self Help Groups and the institutions under its framework. The focus of the Mission is on making the rural poor self reliant especially the women who can act as a catalyst of growth in the rural areas.

NRLM has been mandated to ensure adequate coverage of vulnerable sections of the society such that 50% of the beneficiaries are SC / STs, 15% are minorities and 3% are persons with disability, while keeping in view the ultimate target of 100% coverage of BPL families. A unique feature of the new initiative is that it would be led by the poor themselves. NRLM would utilize the services of Community Resource Persons ( CRPs ) who are women who have themselves come out of poverty through being a part of the Self Help Group.

They will spread the concept of NRLM from one village to another and from one district to another making NRLM a people’s movement. NRLM is based on large scale successes in states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh where social mobilization and building strong institutions of the poor have led to significant reduction in poverty and empowerment of the poor. It will be a demand driven approach and the states will have the flexibility to develop their own action plans based on their local requirements and availability of resources.

The role of Banks will be of prime importance under NRLM as a source of credit for the poor at reasonable rates. NRLM will focus on getting banks to lend to the poor by making them bankable clients through smart use of subsidy. NRLM will focus on women as we believe that the best way of reaching out to the whole family is through the woman. There will be a special focus on vulnerable sections: scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, minorities, women headed families, etc.

The second focus of NRLM would be rural youth of the country who are unemployed. They will be supported through placement linked skill development projects through which their skills will be upgraded through short term training courses in sectors which have high demand for services. The launch of National Rural Livelihood Mission has been one of the planks of the Government towards poverty alleviation. It will lead to a life with dignity for the poor in rural areas who can sustain their livelihood through skill development and training at various levels with support from the Government.

The High Powered Expert Committee ( HPEC ) on Urban Infrastructure

The expert committee on urban infrastructure, headed by Dr. Isher Ahluwalia, has recommended a new improved Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission ( JNNURM ) for building capacity of the municipal bodies and pushing implementation of reforms in the urban landscape of the country. The JNNURM will be open to all cities and towns and will cater to the varying needs of municipal corporations, municipalities and nagar panchayats. The Committee recommended that investment in urban infrastructure be increased from 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product ( GDP ) in 2011 – 2012 to 1.1 percent by 2031 – 2032.

The panel has called for the abolition of Octroi and entry tax in states to facilitate urbanization and promote overall economic growth.

The Committee has emphasized that India’s economic growth momentum cannot be sustained if urbanisation is not actively facilitated nor can urban poverty be effectively addressed if the needs of the urban poor are isolated from the broader challenges of managing urbanisation. The Committee has stated that cities will have to become the engines of national development. The fortunes of the agricultural sector are also crucially linked to the development of markets for agriculture which will be enhanced by urban expansion.

Noting that the urban population is expected to increase from about 350 million in 2010 to 600 million in 2031, the Committee has estimated that urban infrastructure wilt require a total investment of ₹ 39.2 lakh crore over the next 20 years, with ₹ 17.3 lakh crore for urban roads, ₹ 8 lakh crore for sectors delivering urban services such as water supply, sewerage, solid waste management, and storm water drains, ₹ 4 lakh crore for renewal and redevelopment including slums, etc. The Committee has emphasised the importance of maintaining these assets if the investments are to make a durable impact on service delivery.

Some of the other major recommendations of the Committee are as under :

  • Ministry of Urban Affairs and Housing, Govt. Of India and a unified mission ( NIJNNURM ).
  • Unified Command under an empowered and accountable measure.
  • City level planning by urban land bodies through State Legislative Reforms.
  • District and Metropolitan plans to form part of State Plans.
  • Setting up of five Indian Institutes of Urban Management.
  • Promote think tank initiatives in urban policy.
  • Train 300 Officers from IAS and other Central Services annually as Urban Specialists.

Central supervisory board reconstituted to tackle declining child sex ratio

The Union government has reconstituted the Central Supervisory Board set up under the Pre – conception & Pre – natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 ( PC & PNDT Act ) to address the sharp decline in the child sex ratio as reflected in the provisional Census figures. The new Board will have 35 members including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare as the chairperson and Krishna Tirath, Minister of State ( Women & Child Development ) as Co – Chair. The non – official members include representatives from non – governmental organisations working in the field of women’s health, gynaecologists and obstetricians, social scientists, paediatricians, and health experts.

The Board advises the Centre on policy matters relating to use of pre – natal diagnostic techniques, sex – selection techniques and against their misuse; review and monitor implementation of the Act and rules made under it and recommend to the Union government changes in the said Act and rules. It also helps to create public awareness against the practice of pre – conception sex selection and pre – natal determination of sex of foetus; lays down code of conduct to be observed by persons working at genetic counselling centres, laboratories and clinics; and oversees the performance of various bodies constituted under the Act and take appropriate steps to ensure its proper and effective Implementation.

In order to check female foeticide, the Pre – natal Diagnostic Techniques ( Regulation and Prevention of Misuse ) Act, 1994 was brought into operation from 1st January, 1996. The Act was amended to make it more comprehensive and was renamed “Pre – conception and Pre – Natal Diagnostic Techniques ( Prohibition of Sex Selection ) Act, 1994.”
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