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October 7, 2017

Nobel Peace Prize goes to ICAN

  • Nuclear disarmament campaign group the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to rid the world of the atomic bomb, warning that Donald Trump’s presidency showed how dangerous the weapons of mass destruction truly are.
  • More than 70 years since atomic bombs were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nobel committee sought to highlight ICAN’s tireless non-proliferation efforts as nuclear-related crises swirl around North Korea and Iran.
  • The decision sent a strong message at a time when Mr. Trump has threatened to tear up a 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear abilities. And the U.S. President last month alarmed delegates at the UN General Assembly by warning he may be forced to “totally destroy” North Korea because of its atomic weapons programme.
  • Founded in Vienna in 2007, ICAN comprises more than 400 NGOs and has mobilised supporters and celebrities alike in its cause.

Largely symbolic

  • However, the accord was largely symbolic as none of the nine known world nuclear powers put their names down. It still needs to be ratified before entering into force.
  • The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are all thought to possess weapons of mass destruction.
  • Although global atomic weapons stockpiles have plummeted — from around 64,000 warheads in 1986 at the height of the Cold War to more than 9,000 in 2017 according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) — the number of nuclear-armed nations has grown.

Trump set to decertify Iran nuclear agreement

  • The Iran nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers reached in 2015 appears to be in jeopardy as President Donald Trump is unlikely to issue a certification mandated by a U.S law for the country’s continuing participation in the agreement.
  • Decertification by Mr. Trump will not directly result in the U.S withdrawal from the agreement, but could a trigger a series of events that may destabilise and eventually dismantle it.

At odds with IAEA

  • The President’s view that Iran is not in compliance with the deal, also called the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is at odds with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the other five signatories to the deal — Russia, China, France, Germany and U.K.
  • The IAEA and these five countries maintain that Iran is in full compliance. Mr. Trump appears to be going by the advice of a segment of the Republican Party and two key American allies in region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, both bitter opponents of the deal negotiated by the Barack Obama administration. The deal has provisions to deal with an Iranian breach, but does not foresee an American non-compliance.

Four points

  • Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the President is required to issue a certification to Congress every 90 days that makes a determination on four points — that “Iran is fully implementing the JCPOA, Iran has not committed a material breach, Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance a nuclear weapons programme, and suspension of sanctions is appropriate and proportionate to the measures taken by Iran and vital to U.S. national security interests.”
  • The next certification is due on October 15. Mr. Trump has certified the deal twice, but has indicated that he does not intend to do it a third time. The last point about the deal being vital to U.S national interests is an entirely subjective one.
  • When the President refuses to certify, the onus is on the U.S Congress to decide the course of action. The Congress will get 60 days to decide whether or not to reimpose the sanctions on Iran, lifted as part of the nuclear deal. For now, supporters of decertification argue that this move could open the path for a stronger deal that could be negotiated.

Lack of access to Rakhine State unacceptable: UN

  • The lack of humanitarian access granted by Myanmar’s government to Rakhine State, where more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence, is “unacceptable”, the UN said on Friday
  • Myanmar has tightly controlled access to the State since last month when attacks by Rohingya militants prompted an army kickback that has sent about 5,15,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

Aayog forms panel for ‘intelligent’ transport

  • The NITI Aayog has set up a national-level committee constituting officials from various ministries and States to develop a roadmap for the implementation of the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) policy.
  • The National ITS policy will aim to reduce urban traffic congestion, improve parking for vehicles in cities, road safety and the security of passenger and goods traffic.
  • The committee will work towards setting uniform standards to implement the ITS in various parts of the country, Anil Srivastava, IAS, Advisor, (Infrastructure) NITI Aayog, said during an event organised by the International Road Federation.
  • According to Mr. Srivastava, subjects covered under the panel’s purview would include traffic management, parking management, electronic enforcement of traffic rules and fleet management. The committee’s mandate would also include monitoring and encouraging pilot projects.

Centre proposes three-year licence for contractors

  • The government has proposed a major overhaul in the contract labour law, which includes a three-year licence for contractors to work across the country instead of a separate one for new work orders.
  • Contractors will no longer require a licence for undertaking each project, as per the proposed changes to the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
  • “The contractors can obtain a one-time licence valid for three years to work anywhere in the country from the Central Government. The contractor will have to, however, clearly define a particular area of work,” a senior Labour and Employment Ministry official said.
  • If the contractor wants to work in a single State for up to three years, the permit needs to be obtained from the State Government, according to the proposal.
  • However, the contractor will need to inform the government whenever it receives a work order from a company, failing which the licence may be cancelled, the proposed law stated.

Responsibility ceases

  • The proposed law also seeks to make a distinction between contractors who provide services and those who provide human resources. Contractors who provide human resources to a company will no longer be responsible for providing canteen and restroom facilities to the workers. “Providing facilities such as canteen and restroom to contract workers has to be the responsibility of the principal employer who had hired workers from the contractor,” the official explained.
  • If a work order is given to a contractor who has hired employees on payroll, then the workers will not be treated as contract workers under the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, according to a proposed clarification in the law.
  • As per the current law, a worker is “deemed to be employed as contract labour in or in connection with the work of an establishment when he is hired in or in connection with such work by or through a contractor.”
  • The government has also proposed to make wage payment “primarily” through electronic mode instead of cash payment.
  • “The proposed law is in line with International Labour Organisation Convention 181 [on private employment agencies]. A one-time three-year licence for contractors comes as a blessing. Presently, contractors hide away from labour law compliance due to the complexity involved in renewing licence with each work contract,” Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice-president, TeamLease Services said.

Govt. seeks sector-wise plan from industry to spur exports

  • Commerce Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu on Friday asked Export Promotion Councils and industry associations to prepare a vision statement for their product group that would, in turn, help boost output and exports.
  • In a stakeholders’ consultation on exports, Mr. Prabhu also stressed the importance of export-led growth and the need to enhance competencies and the need to tap into the global value chain to enhance exports. During the meeting, exporters raised Goods and Services Tax-related issues including those leading to working capital blockage.
  • In the context of the mid-term review of the Foreign Trade Policy, exporters wanted incentives for more products under the Foreign Trade Policy and increase in the interest subsidy rates.

‘Export strategy inputs’

  • The meeting also provided inputs for a new export strategy focussing on integrating India into the Regional/Global Value Chain, a stable Agri-Export Policy to provide remunerative returns to farmers, focus on high and medium technology sectors for exports, revisiting the focus area (overseas markets) approach and unleashing the potential of services such as tourism, professional services and e-commerce.
  • The meeting was attended by the Textiles and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry C.R. Chaudhary, and senior government officials.

MF schemes to fall under five heads: SEBI

  • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has directed mutual funds to categorise all their schemes into five broad groups namely: equity, debt, hybrid, solution oriented and other.
  • Further, within the broad groups, the regulator has allowed fund houses to have schemes based on parameters such as market capitalisation, investment strategy, tenure of instruments (for debt schemes) and the share of equity and debt.

GST Council gives relief to exporters, small businesses

SC lifts veil on Collegium recommendations

  • In a historic move to usher in transparency, the Supreme Court Collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, has resolved to go public with all its recommendations to the government on judicial appointments, transfers and elevations to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
  • The recommendations will be uploaded on the Supreme Court’s official website.
  • The Collegium will further “indicate” the reasons for which it has decided to recommend or reject names for appointment, transfer or elevation to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
  • As a start, the Supreme Court has already posted online detailed reasons for its October 3, 2017 recommendations for judicial appointments to the Madras HC and the Kerala HC. The details are now available online under the heading “Collegium Resolutions”.

Shrouded in mystery

  • The decision taken by Chief Justice Misra’s Collegium to open up is unprecedented. During its entire existence of 24 years — ever since it was introduced in the Second Judges case judgment in 1993 — the Collegium’s working has been shrouded in mystery.
  • The secretive nature of the functioning of the Collegium continued through the tenures of 20 Chief Justices of India.

India’s greenhouse gas emissions up by 4.7% in 2016

  • Trends in global CO2 and total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions show that India’s emissions have gone up by 4.7% in 2016, according to the latest report by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
  • For most major GHG emitters in the world, the emission figures have gone down, barring India and Indonesia.
  • The Dutch strategic agency’s report shows that emissions in the U.S. saw a fall of 2%, the Russian Federation 2.1%, Brazil 6.1%, China 0.3%, and, within the European Union, the United Kingdom 6.4%. The report’s data is based on the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) produced by the European Union.

Non-CO2 emissions

  • In 2016, the five largest emitting countries and the European Union accounted for 68% of total global CO2 emissions and about 63% of total global GHG emissions. Most of the emissions consist of CO2, about 72%.
  • But methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases (F-gases) also make up substantial shares of 19%, 6% and 3%, respectively. Over the past two years, total global greenhouse gas emissions, excluding those from land use change and forestry, have shown a slowdown in growth, reaching 49.3 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent in 2016.
  • Over the past three years, non-CO2 GHG emissions have continued to grow somewhat faster than CO2 emissions: by 1.5% (2014), 1.2% (2015) and 1.0% (2016). CO2 over the same period increased by a respective 0.8%, -0.2% and 0.3%. Globally, the combined share of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions is about 28% in total GHG emissions, but it varies for the largest countries: 11% for Japan and 31% for India.
  • China’s current share is estimated at 20%, that of the United States and the European Union at 23%, and Russia’s at 25%.
  • According to India’s own submission at the United Nations, its cumulative emission is 3 % of the global emission.

Many Indians skip nutritious food

  • A nation-wide study, carried out by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) to assess urban nutrition, shows not only a great diversity in food consumption in 16 States in the country, but also that Indians consume far less than the recommended quantum of several micro-nutrients and vital vitamins.
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands reported the highest intake of flesh foods, including meat and fish, while Odisha has the highest consumption of green leafy vegetables (GLV). On an average, while the recommended dietary intake of GLV is 40g/Cu/day, the consumption in the country is 24g/Cu/day.
  • Madhya Pradesh has the lowest intake of flesh foods, and Kerala consumes the least green leafy vegetables.
  • If Madhya Pradesh has a sweet tooth with the highest intake of sugar and jaggery, Odisha and Assam have the highest intake of salt. Rajasthan is high on the intake of fats and oils as well as milk and milk products.
  • While the average intake of cereals and millets was found to be 320g/Cu/day, which is lower than the recommended dietary intake (RDI), the intake of pulses and legumes was about 42g/Cu/day.

‘Hypertension high in Kerala, low in Bihar’

  • Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have become a growing threat to global health. A recent study done to assess the diet and nutritional status of India’s urban population has pointed out that the increase in incidence of NCDs can be attributed to a change in food habits, sedentary behaviour and unhealthy lifestyles, among other risk factors.
  • The study, titled ‘Diet and Nutritional Status of Urban Population in India and Prevalence of Obesity, Hypertension, Diabetes and Hyperlipidaemia in Urban Men and Women’, has brought to light the prevalence rates for non-communicable diseases as well as stunting, under-nutrition and obesity in children under 5 years in the 16 States surveyed.
  • Revealing that Kerala has the highest prevalence of hypertension as well as high cholesterol in urban men and women, the study pointed out that Puducherry tops the list of States with the highest prevalence of diabetes. The survey was carried out by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau during 2015-16 by researchers from the National Institute of Nutrition.
  • Tamil Nadu was close behind with 54% men and 38% women recorded as obese. Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh recorded high levels of obesity among its urban men and women, he said.

Lifestyle practices

  • Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala were among the top six States which had the most tobacco smokers among urban men.
  • Dr. Laxmaiah said the researchers interviewed 5,642 mothers, who have children aged less than 36 months, for information on antenatal care and infant and young child feeding practices. While U.P. had the highest (43.6%) proportion of underweight children followed by Madhya Pradesh (32.3%), Puducherry had the lowest (14.2%).

‘Mission rice’ to conserve indigenous seeds

  • After empowering rural women folk in the State, the Kudumbasree Mission is gearing up to script another success story by conserving traditional rice seeds of Wayanad.
  • “The project envisages to conserve and propagate seven vanishing indigenous rice seeds, including aromatic rice varieties such as Gandhakasala and Jeerakasala; short-term rice seed Palthondi; medicinal rice varieties such as Chenellu and Rakthashali; and long-term term rice seeds such as Veliyan and Adukkan in the district,”

Bioslurry pellet method

  • “Bioslurry pellet method is an innovative method of rice cultivation developed by Aji Kunnel, a progressive farmer at Ambalavayal in the district, and it will save both time and money as there is no need to prepare a nursery for paddy plants,” said K.P. Jayachandran, assistant coordinator, Kudumbasree Mission, Wayanad.

Expansion on the cards

  • The mission is planning to expand the project on 300 acres next year. “We will buy the seeds after harvest from the JLG(joint liability groups) group at a premium price and disburse it to 300 JLGs in the district next season to promote the seeds,” Mr. Jayachandran said.

Why can’t hanging be stopped, asks SC

  • The court clarified that it was not questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty, which has been well-settled by the apex court, including in Deena versus Union of India and earlier in the Bachan Singh case reported in 1980.
  • The court said Section 354 (5) — which mandates death by hanging — of the Code of Criminal Procedure has already been upheld.
  • However, the provision of hanging to death may be re-considered as “the Constitution of India is an organic and compassionate document which recognises the sanctity of flexibility of law as situations change with the flux of time.”
  • The fundamental right to life and dignity enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution also means the right to die with dignity, the court said.
  • The order comes on a writ petition filed by Delhi High Court lawyer Rishi Malhotra, who sought the court’s intervention to reduce the suffering of condemned prisoners at the time of death.
  • Mr. Malhotra said a convict should not be compelled to suffer at the time of termination of his or her life.

Aadhaar now must for PPF, KVP

  • The government has made linking Aadhaar mandatory for the Public Provident Fund, the National Savings Certificate and the Kisan Vikas Patra schemes.
  • In four notifications, the government said subscribers had till December 31 to link their Aadhaar to the schemes
  • The government has already made it mandatory to link Aadhaar to PAN by December 31 and to SIM connections by February 2018. Some 135 schemes, including free cooking gas, kerosene and fertilizer subsidy, targeted public distribution system and MGNREGA, are reportedly to be linked to the biometric identification.