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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (22nd May)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. India successfully test-fires BrahMos missile along Odisha coast

The BrahMos missile was test-fired from a mobile launcher stationed at Launch pad 3 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur near Balasore at 10.40am, DRDO officials said.

New Indigenous Technology in BrahMos

  1. India successfully test-fired the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from a test range along the Odisha coast to validate some new features
  2. The missile was test-fired from a mobile launcher stationed at Launchpad 3 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur
  3. The trial was conducted to validate its “life extension” technologies developed for the first time in India by DRDO and team BrahMos
  4. The world-class BrahMos is the first weapon system whose life has been extended from 10 years to 15 years
  5. The successful test will result in huge savings of replacement cost of missiles held in the inventory of the Indian Armed Forces

Old variants

  1. Induction of the first version of BrahMos missile system in Indian Navy began with INS Rajput in 2005
  2. The two-stage missile—first being solid and the second one, a ramjet liquid propellant—has already been introduced in the Army and Navy

Induction in IAF

  1. India successfully launched the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile from a Sukhoi-30 MKI combat jet for the first time against a target in the Bay of Bengal in November 2017
  2. At least two Su-30 squadrons with 20 planes each are planned to be equipped with the air-launch variant BrahMos missile, 500kg lighter than land/naval variants

Expanding range after MTCR

  1. Increasing the missile’s range from 400km to further 800km is now possible after India’s induction into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016
  2. Prior to that, India was bound by restrictions that limited the range of the missile, which is an Indo-Russian joint venture product, to less than 300km

2. Camera traps record rare black panther in Odisha

Sighted in the Sundargarh Forest Division, Odisha is the ninth State to record the presence of the shy black panther. Special arrangement

  • The wildlife wing of Odisha’s Forest and Environment Department has recorded the presence of a black panther in a forest in Sundargarh district. The photographs make Odisha the ninth State in India where the elusive and rare big cat has been seen.
  • Black panther or melanistic leopard is a colour variant of the Indian leopard. It was the first ever footage of a black panther in the forests of Odisha.
  • The leopards’ skins vary in colour and the jet black melanistic form is called black panther. It is as shy as a normal leopard and very difficult to detect. It is mostly found in densely forested areas of southern India.
  • The reserve forest where the footage of the black panther has been recorded is spread across the Hemgir and Gopalpur Range, covering an area of 5947.47 ha and 4090.65 ha respectively. Although the presence of black panther was reported 26 years ago, no scientific or pictorial records could establish the claim.
  • Black panthers have also been reported from Kerala (Periyar Tiger Reserve), Karnataka (Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve and Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary), Chhattisgarh (Achanakmar Tiger Reserve), Maharashtra (Satara), Goa (Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary), Tamil Nadu (Mudumalai Tiger Reserve), Assam and Arunachal Pradesh

3. The Meghalaya example

As the first State to pass a social audit law, its experience is instructive on how to increase awareness of entitlements.

  • As the first State to pass a social audit law, its experience is instructive on how to increase awareness of entitlements
  • Nearly 300 people, mostly women, gathered in a community hall in Iewshillong village, Meghalaya waiting for the “social audit meeting” to begin.
  • They wondered what the ‘social audit’, that had unfolded in their village over the past five days, was going to amount to.

Social Audit:

  • Meghalaya became the first State in the country to pass a social audit legislation, the Meghalaya Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act. This Act mandated social audits across 21 schemes and 11 departments.
  • Later in the year, the Meghalaya government decided to pilot social audits in a campaign mode to unpack the modalities that would have to be institutionalised across the State for meeting the mandate of the legislation.
  • Eighteen villages representing Garo, Khasi and Jaintia Hills were selected for the pilot. The process began in the third week of November 2017 and culminated with public hearings in 18 villages, including Iewshillong.

Social Audit exercise:

  • The Meghalaya exercise demonstrated how social audits can be developed as an ongoing process through which citizens participate in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the programme.
  • Meghalaya is a Sixth Schedule Area, so the audits had to be built on traditional tribal institutions, leveraging their inherent strengths and facilitating their engagement with contemporary democratic practices.
  • The audits were deliberately positioned to be a platform for sharing information about schemes, and enhancing awareness amongst people about their entitlements;
  • Detecting beneficiaries who were eligible, but had been left out;
  • recording people’s testimonies;
  • identifying priorities for inputs for planning; registering of grievances; and
  • pinpointing systemic shortcomings.
  • The critical requirement of recording financial and procedural irregularities and deviations between fact and record remained a core part of the exercise.
  • The audits helped identify and bring about evidence-based policy changes.
  • More than 21 issues were identified based on pilots alone that needed a change in policy, in the interest of the community.
  • For instance, several instances of local discretion in drawing up pension beneficiary lists for the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and the Chief Minister Pension Programme were recorded, because the CM pension provided twice as much remuneration as the NSAP.
  • At a culmination meeting, the government announced parity between the two schemes, benefiting thousands of pensioners.

Citizen oversight

  • In India today, there is a growing acknowledgement of social audits as a credible means of institutionalising citizen oversight.
  • There is, therefore, an urgent need to come up with a working protocol for facilitating social audits across a range of interventions.
  • The experience of Meghalaya has taught us how social audit is intrinsically related to processes of community participation and grievance redress.
  • The Meghalaya pilots have also helped formulate a practical framework through which that can be done. Draft rules were prepared on the basis of consultation.

Conclusion

  • By passing and rolling out a social audit law, Meghalaya has made a breakthrough in the framework of accountability to the people.
  • Social audit is much more than just a tool of “good governance”.
  • Knowing the reluctance of most government establishments to share power or become accountable, this initiative is unlikely to spread or become robust, unless driven by citizens groups.
  • Civil society needs to shape the social audit campaign, be a watchdog, and staunchly protect the independence of the process.
  • Social audits must become part of the demand for effective legislation for the whole country.

4. On the great Asian highway

  • One of the key non-military issues that does not just bedevil India-China relations but also significantly affects many countries in the region is the inability of the two Asian giants to communicate, cooperate and coordinate on matters of regional trade and connectivity which could have benefited all.
  • India on declining to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the just concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The BBIN way

  • Looking into South Asia, where most multi-country connectivity initiatives are usually deemed,one recent positive development has been the trial run of a Bangladesh-Nepal bus service through India under  the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicles agreement.
  • It shows that the ambition of establishing physical connectivity among the smaller states of South Asia through India can eventually be realised and break the usual political gridlock that characterises the region.
  • Although Bhutan failed to ratify the agreement due to opposition from its parliament, instead of halting progress, the country asked other stakeholders to move ahead and expressed hope of joining the initiative if and once it gets clearance from the parliament.
  • Bhutan’s positive go-ahead not only demonstrated the immense potential to be realised through simple cooperation but also showed that it is possible to implement pragmatic plans even when all members are not able to participate at the same time.
  • Poor connectivity is the major reason why intra-regional trade is among the lowest in South Asia. South Asia, with its 1.8 billion population, is only capable of conducting around 5% intraregional trade as connectivity remains a constant barrier.
  • Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) continue to plague the region and addressing infrastructure deficits can do away with 80% of the NTBs.
  • In addition to enhancing trade, connectivity can significantly improve people-to-people interaction leading to better understanding, greater tolerance and closer diplomatic relations in the region.
  • States in South and Southeast Asia are involved in multiple regional initiatives led by India and China but are unable to get the benefit due to their slow progress.
  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation remains moribund with little hope of it becoming functional in the near future.
  • The Bay of Bengal too remains among the least integrated regions in spite of having immense potential of enhancing trade through utilisation of its ports and waterways.
  • The India-led Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, has made little progress.
  • Serving as a funnel to the Malacca Straits, one of the world’s busiest waterways, the Bay of Bengal has now become one of the most important strategic hotspots for global trade and all countries in BIMSTEC are losing out due to this prolonged period of dormancy.
  • In all this time, the organisation has only had meetings, negotiations and leaders’ summit and stalled free trade agreement negotiations.
  • However, there has been some progress through the establishment of the BIMSTEC Energy Centre and a task force on Trans Power Exchange and Development Projects, which was established to develop a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection.

China is leading its own regional ambition with its BRI.

  • A portion of the Maritime Silk Route crosses the Bay of Bengal and involves Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
  • Both China and India are pursuing regional initiatives on their own which could lead to benefit for all involved states.
  • Regional agendas could have been pursued efficiently if the initiatives were complementary rather than competing. If the BRI, BIMSTEC and BBIN were developed through coordination and consultation, led by the two Asian giants, the projects under the schemes could have been implemented more efficiently.
  • With the minimum required cooperation in pursuing regional initiatives, India and China can significantly enhance trade, investment and connectivity in the region.
  • This would not only would be a win-win for the two giants but also enormously benefit smaller countries.

Make good in Qingdao

  • As Prime Minister of India and Chinese President meet again, after the Wuhan informal summit, in June for the SCO summit in Qingdao, China, they have an opportunity to forge a pragmatic understanding on the efficacy of regional initiatives through greater communication, enhanced cooperation and better coordination.
  • In the end, slow moving regional projects end up hurting most the resource-constrained citizenry of the region who are deprived from the benefits emanating from well-thought-out and carefully strategised regional connectivity projects.
  • Caught in the quagmire of continental, regional and sub-regional geopolitics, the smaller states are losing out and having to pay the price of missed economic opportunities as the two Asian giants shake hands but seldom see eye to eye even on matters of common economic and strategic interests.

5. Miles to go for the new bankruptcy code

  • The new bankruptcy code yields its first success, but many wrinkles remain.
  • Good news has finally started to roll out of the refurbished bankruptcy courts.
  • Tata Steel acquired 73% stake in the bankrupt firm Bhushan Steel for about 35,000 crore, making it the first major resolution of a bankruptcy case under the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
  • Bhushan Steel was one among the 12 major accounts referred to the National Company Law Tribunal at the behest of the Reserve Bank of India last year to ease the burden of bad loans on banks.
  • The proceeds from the acquisition will go towards settling almost two-thirds of the total outstanding liabilities of over 56,000 crore that Bhushan Steel owes banks.
  • While it may be unwise to read too much into a single case, the Bhushan Steel resolution is nevertheless an encouraging sign for banks because they typically manage to recover only about 25% of their money from defaulters.
  • In fact, between April 2014 and September 2017, the bad loan recovery rate of public sector banks was as low as 11%, with non-performing assets worth 41 lakh crore written off from their books.
  • The Finance Ministry now expects banks to recover more than 1 lakh crore from the resolution of the other cases referred by the RBI to the NCLT.
  • If the banks do indeed recover funds of this scale, it would considerably reduce the burden on taxpayers, who would otherwise have to foot the bill for any recapitalisation of banks.
  • Even more important, speedy resolution would free valuable assets to be used for wealth-creation.

Challenges:

  •  The resolution of one high-profile case, however, should not deflect attention from the many challenges still plaguing the bankruptcy resolution process.
  • The IBC, as the government itself has admitted, remains a work in progress. This is a welcome piece of legislation to the extent that it subsumes a plethora of laws that confused creditors; instead it now offers a more streamlined way to deal with troubled assets.
  • But issues such as the proposed eligibility criteria for bidders have left it bogged down and suppressed its capacity to help out creditors efficiently.
  • Also, the strict time limit for the resolution process as mandated by the IBC is an area that has drawn much attention, and it merits further review in order to balance the twin objectives of speedy resolution and maximising recovery for the lenders.
  • To its credit, the government has been willing to hear out suggestions. It would do well to implement the recommendations of the Insolvency Law Committee which, among other things, has vouched for relaxed bidder eligibility criteria.

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