30 April 2015

National Research Development Corporation

The National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) is planning to align its growth strategy with certain key opportunities offered by the Government’s flagship programmes, viz. Make in India, Digital India and Swachh Bharat. The ‘Make in India’ programme includes creation of a technology acquisition and development fund, wherein NRDC proposes to scout for technologies to be acquired, demonstrate high risk technologies in PPP mode and extend angel funding for promising technologies. The ‘Digital India’ programme includes making available all Databases and Information electronically. Accordingly, NRDC has proposed to develop an Indian Technology Data Bank. Under the ‘Swachh Bharat’ programme, NRDC proposesadoption of a Gram Panchayat and promote innovative technologies therein for socio-economic transformation.

NRDC has been facing acute shortage of funds to promote transfer, commercialization and utilization of domestic R&D. NRDC undertakes commercial as well as promotional activities. Commercial activities primarily include undertaking consultancy projects and licensing of technologies for which it receives royalty/lump-sum premia from licensees and makes payment to the inventors and institutions who assign the technologies to NRDC for commercialization. NRDC’s income from its commercial activities during 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 have been Rs. 1073.30 lakh, Rs. 709.86 lakh and Rs. 766.20 lakh, respectively incurring a loss of Rs. 84.54 lakh, Rs. 247.59 lakh and Rs. 170.42 lakh during the same period. Promotional activities primarily include, patent assistance, IPR awareness, technology value addition, techno-commercial support, technology commercialization, giving away innovation awards and promotion of innovations in Rural and North East regions, for which NRDC receives grants from the Government. Government has approved a 12th five year plan outlay of Rs. 37 crore for NRDC, against which only Rs. 13.68 crore has been provided during 2012-2015 and Rs. 1.00 crore in the current F.Y. 2015-16. The Ministry proposes to seek additional support for NRDC at the revised estimates stage and subject to necessary approvals and fund availability position, NRDC will be able to carry out the promotional activities. Simultaneously, NRDC is also being advised to raise its income from the commercial activities to promote domestic R&D growth. 

#AtalMission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and #SmartCities Mission

Union Cabinet approves Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and Smart Cities Mission to drive economic growth and foster inclusive urban development
In a determined bid to recast the urban landscape of the country to make urban areas more livable and inclusive besides driving the economic growth, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi today approved Central Government spending of about one lakh crore on urban development under two new urban missions over the next five years. The Cabinet has approved the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation of 500 cities (AMRUT) with outlays of Rs.48,000 crore and Rs.50,000 crore respectively.

Under the Smart Cities Mission, each selected city would get central assistance of Rs.100 crore per year for five years. Smart City aspirants will be selected through a ‘City Challenge Competition’ intended to link financing with the ability of the cities to perform to achieve the mission objectives. Each state will shortlist a certain number of smart city aspirants as per the norms to be indicated and they will prepare smart city proposals for further evaluation for extending Central support.

This Mission of building 100 smart cities intends to promote adoption of smart solutions for efficient use of available assets, resources and infrastructure with the objective of enhancing the quality of urban life and providing a clean and sustainable environment. Special emphasis will be given to participation of citizens in prioritizing and planning urban interventions. It will be implemented through ‘area based’ approach consisting of retrofitting, redevelopment, pan-city initiatives and development of new cities. Under retrofitting, deficiencies in an identified area will be addressed through necessary interventions as in the case of Local Area Plan for downtown Ahmedabad. Redevelopment enables reconstruction of already built-up area that is not amenable for any interventions, to make it smart, as in the case of Bhendi Bazar of Mumbai and West Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi. Pan-city components could be interventions like Intelligent Transport Solutions that benefits all residents by reducing commuting time.

Under smart cities initiative, focus will be on core infrastructure services like: Adequate and clean Water supply, Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, Efficient Urban Mobility and Public Transportation, Affordable housing for the poor, power supply, robust IT connectivity, Governance, especially e-governance and citizen participation, safety and security of citizens, health and education and sustainable urban environment.

Smart City Action Plans will be implemented by Special Purpose Vehicles(SPV) to be created for each city and state governments will ensure steady stream of resources for SPVs.

The two missions are interlinked. AMRUT adopts a project approach to ensure basic infrastructure services relating to water supply, sewerage, septage management, storm water drains, transport and development of green spaces and parks with special provision for meeting the needs of children. Implementation of this Mission will be linked to promotion of urban reforms such as e-governance, constitution of professional municipal cadre, devolving funds and functions to urban local bodies, review of Building bye-laws, improvement in assessment and collection of municipal taxes, credit rating of urban local bodies, energy and water audit and citizen-centric urban planning.

10 percent of budget allocation will be given to States/UTs as incentive based on achievement of reforms during the previous year. A reform matrix with timelines would be circulated to States in the Guidelines.

This Mission will be implemented in 500 cities and towns each with a population of one lakh and above, some cities situated on stems of main rivers, a few capital cities and important cities located in hilly areas, islands and tourist areas.

Under this Mission, States get the flexibility of designing schemes based on the needs of identified cities and in their execution and monitoring. States will only submit State Annual Action Plans to the Centre for broad concurrence based on which funds will be released. In a significant departure from JNNURM, Central Government will not appraise individual projects.

Central assistance will be to the extent of 50 percent of project cost for cities and towns with a population of up to 10 lakh and one-third of the project cost for those with a population of above 10 lakh. Central assistance will be released in three instalments in the ratio of 20:40:40 based on achievement of milestones indicated in State Annual Action Plans. AMRUT seeks to lay a foundation to enable cities and towns to eventually grow into smart cities.

The Cabinet also today approved Central funding under AMRUT to the projects sanctioned under JNNURM and not completed. JNNURM projects relating to urban development sanctioned during 2005 -2012 and achieved physical progress of 50 percent availing 50 percent of central assistance released and those sanctioned during 2012-2014 will be supported till March, 2017. Accordingly, 102 and 296 projects respectively will get Central support for balance funding to complete these projects.

Central spending approved for the next five years under the two new Missions assumes significance in the backdrop of the approved Plan outlay of Rs.42,900 crore for JNNURM that was implemented over nine years between 2005 and 2014. Out of this, actual Central assistance released was Rs.36,398 crore.

Further to today’s Cabinet approval, a minimum investment of over Rs. 2 lakh crore would flow into urban areas over the next five years (2015-16 – 2019-20) since States and urban local bodies would mobilise matching resources ranging from 50 percent to 66 percent. In addition, substantial private investments would be mobilized by states and urban local bodies through PPP model as required to meet project costs.

The architecture of the Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT is guided by the twin objectives of meeting the challenges of growing urbanization in the country in a sustainable manner as well as ensuring the benefits of urban development to the poor through increased access to urban spaces and enhanced employment opportunities. 

29 April 2015

Two-way manned trips to Mars possible with #electricsolarsail

Propellant-less vehicles can mine asteroids for water, making fuel for heavy rockets available in space.

Electric solar wind sail could make two-way manned Mars flights possible by making fuel available in Mars orbit, researchers claim.
In the heart of this scheme is the electric solar wind sail (E-sail) which provides propellant-less transportation within the solar system, thus enabling economical asteroid mining. The E-sail, which was invented in Finland in 2006, utilises long, charged tethers to convert natural solar wind momentum flux into spacecraft thrust.
After finding a suitable water-bearing asteroid, a mining unit using the E-sail can be sent to extract the water from asteroid soil. Water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen and liquefied, and the liquid hydrogen/oxygen (LH2/LOX) mixture can be used as fuel. The E-sail vehicle can ferry the extracted water and fuel to the orbits of Earth or Mars to be used to fill the tanks of manned vehicles travelling between Earth and Mars, researchers said.
According to Pekka Janhunen, a researcher in the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and colleagues the E-sail could provide essentially free logistics in the solar system outside of Earth’s magnetosphere.
Due to the exponential nature of the rocket equation, intermediate fuelling reduces the launch mass dramatically.
During the trip, asteroid-mined water could also be used as radiation shielding of the manned module to reduce the launch mass further.
With cheap propellant available in Mars orbit, there is also the option of fully propulsive landing on Mars which eliminates the need of a massive and expensive heat shield.
The E-sail facilitated Manned Mars Initiative (EMMI), could provide a fundamentally new, economically sustainable way to approach manned Mars flights, researchers said.
The running costs of the EMMI are not expected to much exceed those of maintaining the International Space Station, they said.

Killing a country’s ‪#‎ecology‬

The Environment Minister insists on clearing all hydro projects, even when the government itself earlier agreed that the Himalayas must be avoided for development work.
A battle of epic proportions between the hydroelectric power companies and the people of Uttarakhand has now culminated with the struggle shifting to the office of the Prime Minister of India. It began with the extraordinary and far-sighted 2014 decision of the Supreme Court in the Alaknanda Hydro Power Company case, where the Court said it was concerned with the mushrooming of hydroelectric projects adversely affecting the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins.
The cumulative impact of dams, tunnels, blasting, the construction of power houses, garbage creation, mining and deforestation on the eco system has not yet been studied. The June 2013 tragedy that affected the Char Dham area of Uttarakhand, where thousands of people were killed and there was massive damage to property, forced a rethinking on projects. It was now considered important to make a cumulative assessment of bumper-to-bumper projects, where the rivers of the Himalayas are diverted from their normal course and channelled into tunnels, released at a lower level, then re-channeled into another pipeline, which ultimately leaves the main course of the river without water. The mistake made in the earlier environmental assessments — treating each project as stand-alone without going into the cumulative effect of all of them — was questioned by the Supreme Court. The Court, therefore, ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to constitute an Expert Committee to study the cumulative effects of such projects on the environment, on the stability of the Himalayas, and their adverse effect on the Himalayan rivers.
Unreliable assessments
The Expert Committee’s report is possibly one of the best ever made on the fragile ecology of the Himalayas. It almost unanimously found that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearances were unreliable, wrongly prepared, made on the basis of false information submitted by the Hydroelectric Projects (HEPs), and that the clearances, in some cases, were motivated. These clearances, therefore, could not be relied upon for the continuation of these projects.
The Committee concluded that EIA reports should be done by an independent agency and not by the project proponent, and said that HEPs had an irreversible negative impact on the environment.
Five of the six projects now being examined afresh are in the para-glacial zone, rendering them extremely hazardous. As the glaciers recede due to construction activity, the land exposed becomes unstable, and an unusual cloudburst could again result in tragedy. The adverse impact on rivers and water quality and on forests, biodiversity and wild life are set out in detail.
The scathing report of the Wildlife Institute of India that pointed to the devastation that would be caused to wildlife in the Himalayas was also relied upon. One chapter deals with the proximity of HEPs to national parks and eco-sensitive areas and the impact on these areas. The report responds to the classic defence of project proponents that they would do compensatory afforestation by concluding that such afforestation was poorly done. The Committee concludes that the negative impacts of HEPs cannot be mitigated. The blasting of rocks, creation of garbage, and the receding of glaciers are a concomitant of all industrial activity in the Himalayas and, if the Himalayas and the Ganga are to be saved, there is no way forward but to scrap such projects.
Government support
To its credit, the Union of India initially supported the Expert Committee Report, pointing out that even prior to this report the B.K. Chaturvedi Inter-Ministerial Group, the Planning Commission, the G.B. Mukherjee Task Force Report, the CAG report, the Neeri report, and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) report had all recommended that hydroelectric projects be severely curtailed as they destroyed the environment. The Union of India pointed out that the Gangotri Valley and the Valley of Flowers were in eco-sensitive zones. It agreed that the seven main Indian rivers ought to be kept pristine, that the Himalayas are weak, the rivers drying up, and, in 2013, as against the state claim of 65 per cent forest cover, the actual cover was only 46 per cent.
The Union said that earlier environmental clearances had to be reviewed and a cumulative environmental impact approach adopted, with sensitive areas in the Himalayas avoided for development work. Referring to the GSI report, the Union of India said the entire Ganga basin was in Seismic Zones IV and V, which carries the highest degree of catastrophe possibility. A reference was also made to the Planning Commission recommendation that the projects be decommissioned.
However, despite the Union of India’s stand, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Prakash Javadekar, does not agree. He has made it his life mission to clear all projects, irrespective of their environmental impact. It is this attitude that has made India a country of toxic rivers, destroyed forests, declining groundwater resources, and the highest degrees of air pollution in the world. After the Union of India took a public stand that fully supported the findings and recommendations of the Expert Committee, Mr. Javadekar has set about clearing all projects. In typical bureaucratic style, a four-member Committee of Experts was appointed to make a report on a report. However, it did not play ball, pointing out that though environmental clearances were granted, the six projects studied would adversely impact aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity and the flow of the river.
They would impact the protected areas of the Nanda Devi National Park and Biosphere Reserve, the Valley of Flowers National Park (World Heritage Site), the Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, and the Alaknanda III, Bhyundar and Dhauli Ganga biodiversity-rich sub-basins, which are the habitat of the rare and endangered Himalayan Brown Bear. The diversion of water through the construction of underground tunnels poses a serious risk to water life. The Committee of Experts unanimously noted that environmental clearances have to be reviewed and the six projects must not be taken up as they have the potential to cause a significant impact on the environment.
The future of the Himalayas and its rivers are at stake. Indeed, the future of India is in the balance. Within the government, well-meaning officials and Ms. Uma Bharti are fighting to clean up the Ganges, while Mr. Javedkar and his friends in industry battle to finish off what little is left of the Himalayas, its rivers and glaciers. The Prime Minister of India has to decide on which side he stands.

Towards an Indian #GST regime

Make no mistake about it. What India is likely to get, if its politicians agree to the idea finally, will be a sui generis version of an Indian goods and services tax (GST) regime. It will be truly an indigenous model and a product of India's fractious politics, containing all the imperfections of a system that the GST's original proponents would shudder at.

The reasons for the GST experts' disenchantment are obvious. Far from creating a barrier-free pan-Indian market for smooth transaction of goods and services across the country, the proposed system may well create new tax hurdles. Instead of improving tax compliance, there could be a strong incentive for tax payers to avoid the higher tax burden to be imposed by the new system. The tax base too may not widen because of the many items that would be excluded from the GST chain. And, most important, instead of enhancing the value of the country's economic activity, the proposed GST system may well be a dampener for achieving higher growth in gross domestic product or GDP.

The success of a GST system is largely dependent on the width of its coverage. All items in the tax chain must ideally be included in the GST system to achieve the best results. That also helps eliminate the incidence of paying tax on taxes, reduces the cascading effect of a tax system and enables producers of goods and services to enjoy the set-off benefits on the taxes they may have paid at various intermediate stages.

However, the proposed GST regime now under consideration of the Indian Parliament is likely to exclude potable alcohol, tobacco and petroleum products. Taken together, they account for a large chunk of the indirect taxes base in the country. Unfortunately, this exclusion is largely triggered by some of the states' myopic desire to preserve their revenue streams. This is often aided and abetted by the federalist streak among many of the Indian states to assert their right and freedom to fix duties on certain products as they please. Worse, such an approach is often inspired by irrational thinking and narrow political calculations based on party affiliations.

Experts also point out that the exclusion of items from the GST chain results in a higher rate of final taxes to be paid under the new system - or the revenue neutral rate. The legislative Bill seeking to to introduce GST does not indicate the revenue neutral rate and delegates that responsibility to the GST Council, which will be a body composed of the finance ministers of the Centre and states. If, recent studies by some expert bodies are an indication, the revenue neutral rate with the proposed exclusion of items could well be around 27 per cent - almost half of which will be the state GST rate and the other half would be the central GST rate.

This is considered too high a revenue neutral rate to ensure an easy buy-in for states and address concerns of a sharp increase in the tax burden. Barring a few Scandinavian countries, the revenue neutral rate for GST is well below the 20 per cent mark in most countries. True, a GST regime with a 27 per cent revenue neutral rate might help improve the country's low tax to GDP ratio, but surely a more prudent and effective way of improving that ratio would be to increase the coverage and the base of direct taxes.

A far more risky idea in the proposed GST regime is the imposition of a one per cent tax on all cross-border sales of goods and services by states, in addition to the GST rate. There is now a demand from two producing states of Gujarat and Maharashtra that the additional tax on inter-state sale of goods and services be raised to two per cent to help them protect their revenues. GST is a tax levied by a state where the goods and services are consumed and hence states that produce them are afraid that they might lose revenue.

If the additional duty is allowed, under political pressure, the spirit of the GST regime would be seriously undermined. Imports would get a fillip as they would not be subjected to the additional tax, whose multiplier effect, every time the goods enter a new state, would be substantial, dealing a blow to the government's 'Make in India' programme.

Add to this the fact that the real estate sector will not be covered under the proposed GST. Thus, all construction activities and the expenditure incurred on them would be outside the GST chain, robbing their suppliers of the benefits of setting off their intermediate tax burden against their final tax liability. Not surprisingly, instead of adding to the country's GDP, the new GST regime with all these imperfections may perpetuate the barriers that split the large Indian market into 29 states and seven union territories. In addition, they may undermine whatever additional growth the proponents of the new taxation system may have envisaged as a net gain for the economy.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had led her party's walk-out from the Lok Sabha, lodging her protest against the new GST regime. It is not clear what changes she or her party wanted in the GST regime, an idea that was first mooted and even introduced in Parliament by her party when in power. The problem is that the country is in such a political situation, with states flexing their muscles in the name of federalism, that a new idea like the GST regime does not appear feasible in its original form. Whichever be the government at the Centre, it has to accept the fact that the Indian polity is not yet ready for wholesale changes in economic policies that will require major shifts either in the way states collect their taxes or in the way companies do business.

What should Finance Minister Arun Jaitley do? Should he scrap the current proposal for what is clearly an imperfect GST and wait for more consultation and consensus to help formulate a perfect GST? That would not be a pragmatic move. The nation has waited for a GST regime for far too long. It would be wiser to make a beginning even with an imperfect GST, with all its flaws, as long as the government is committed to addressing the concerns that arise over time. It should also ensure that the new structure should be such that necessary changes to address those concerns can be brought about without going through a long-winded process.

Measures to Check Mortality Rate of Children

Under the National Health Mission (NHM), following interventions are being implemented to bring down mortality rate among children in all States:

1. Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram (JSSK): entitles all pregnant women delivering in public health institutions to absolutely free and no expense delivery including Caesarean section. The initiative stipulates free drugs, diagnostics, blood and diet, besides free transport from home to institution, between facilities in case of a referral and drop back home. Similar entitlements have been put in place for all sick infants accessing public health institutions for treatment till one year of age.

2. Facility Based Newborn Care (FBNC) at different levels to reduce child morbidity and mortality: Setting up of facilities for care of sick newborn such as Special New Born Care Units (SNCUs), Newborn Stabilization Units (NBSUs) and Newborn Care Corners (NBCCs) at different levels is a thrust area under NHM.

3. Home Based New Born Care (HBNC): Home based newborn care through ASHAs has been initiated to improve new born practices at the community level and early detection and referral of sick new born babies.

4. India Newborn Action Plan (INAP) has been launched with an aim to reduce neonatal mortality and stillbirths.

5. Newer interventions to reduce newborn mortality- Vitamin K injection at birth, Antenatal corticosteroids for preterm labour, kangaroo mother care and injection gentamicin to young infants in cases of suspected sepsis.

6. Intensified Diarrhoea Control Fortnight was observed in August 2014 focusing on ORS and Zinc distribution for management of diarrhoea and feeding practices.

7. Integrated Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (IAPPD) launched in four states with highest child mortality (UP, MP, Bihar and Rajasthan).

8. Management of Malnutrition: Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs) have been established for management of severe acute malnutrition in children.

9. Appropriate Infant and Young Child Feeding practices are being promoted in convergence with Ministry of Woman and Child Development.

10. Village Health and Nutrition Days (VHNDs) are organized for imparting nutritional counselling to mothers and to improve child care practices.

11. Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS): A name based Mother and Child Tracking System has been put in place which is web based to ensure registration and tracking of all pregnant women and new born babies so that provision of regular and complete services to them can be ensured.

12. Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) for health screening and early intervention services has been launched to provide comprehensive care to all the children in the age group of 0-18 years in the community. The purpose of these services is to improve the overall quality of life of children through early detection of birth defects, diseases, deficiencies, development delays including disability.

13. Under National Iron Plus Initiative (NIPI), through life cycle approach, age and dose specific IFA supplementation programme is being implemented for the prevention of anaemia among the vulnerable age groups like under-5 children, children of 6 – 10 years of age group, adolescents, pregnant & lactating women and women in reproductive age along with treatment of anaemic children and pregnant mothers at health facilities.

14. Capacity building of health care providers: Various trainings are being conducted under NHM to train doctors, nurses and ANMs for essential newborn care, early diagnosis and case management of common ailments of children. These trainings are on Navjaat Shishu, Suraksha Karyakram (NSSK), Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illnesses (IMNCI), Facility Based Newborn Care (FBNC), Infant and Young Child Feeding practices (IYCF), etc.

15. Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) covers about 13.5 crore children for vaccination against seven vaccine preventable diseases, through 90 lakh immunization sessions each year. 

26 April 2015

Supreme Court sets aside government’s decision to include #Jats in the central list of OBCs for certain states

On March 17, 2015, the Supreme Court set aside the decision of the central government to include Jats in the central list of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for certain states.37 In February 2014, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), after having examined the issue, had recommended not including Jats in the central list of OBCs. However, on March 4, 2014, the central government included Jats in the central list of OBCs in Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan (Bharatpur and Dholpur districts), Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
The Court made the following major observations while setting aside the government‟s decision:

  On bypassing the advice of the NCBC: The Court pointed out that: (i) the observations in Indra Sawhney vs. the Union of India, and (ii) the provisions of the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993; indicate that the recommendations of the NCBC are normally binding on the government.38,39 Further, there was no valid reason for the government to bypass the advice of NCBC.
  On the determination of ‘backwardness’: The Court pointed out that backwardness is caused by factors which may be social, cultural, economic, educational, political, etc. While backwardness has been associated with caste in the past, the Court has discouraged the identification of a group as backward only on the basis of caste. The Court stated that new methods must be developed to identify new groups which deserve the protection of the State, such as transgenders, moving away from a „caste-centric‟ definition of backwardness.
 On using outdated reports and lists: The government argued that the OBC lists of states can be a reasonable ground for the inclusion of communities in the central list of OBCs. However, the Court pointed that

National ‪#‎SupercomputingMission

CCEA approves the National Supercomputing Mission The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the launch of the National Supercomputing Mission (NSM) on March 25, 2015. It will be jointly implemented by the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology at an estimated cost of Rs 4,500 crore over a period of seven years. 22 The NSM has been conceptualised in response to the increasing computing demands of the scientific and academic sectors in the country.

 It aims to:  Install a vast supercomputing grid comprising of around 70 high-performance computing facilities,
 Professionally train human resources for meeting challenges in the development of applications,
  Provide qualitative and quantitative improvement in research and development (R&D) and higher education, in the disciplines of science and technology
,  Enable comparability to countries advanced in supercomputing such as the US, Japan, China, etc. Supercomputers will also be networked on the National Supercomputing grid over the National Knowledge Network, which is a programme connecting academic institutions and R&D labs over a high speed network. These institutions as well as departments and ministries of the government will use supercomputing facilities and develop applications of national relevance.

Cabinet approves approach and key components of #eKranti: #NeGP 2.0

Cabinet approves approach and key components of e-Kranti: NeGP 2.0

The Union Cabinet approved the approach and key components of the e-Kranti or National eGovernance Plan (NeGP) 2.0 on March 25, 2015. This programme will be implemented by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. 21 E-Kranti is one of the components of the Digital India programme.
 The aim of the programme is to deliver all government services electronically to citizens, at affordable costs, while ensuring efficiency and transparency. The first NeGP (launched in 2006) had revealed several implementation issues. The e-Kranti programme is being launched to improve delivery of government services such as e-education, ehealthcare, etc.

Some key objectives are to:
 Redefine NeGP with outcome oriented eGovernance initiatives,  Enhance portfolio of citizen centric services,
  Ensure optimum usage of core Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and
  Leverage emerging technologies. Some of e-Kranti‟s key principles include providing ICT infrastructure on demand, cloud by default, fast tracking approvals, National GeoSpatial Information System, etc. The programme management structure approved for Digital India would be used for monitoring the implementation of e-Kranti as well.

Cabinet gives approval for utilization of stranded gas based generation capacity

Cabinet gives approval for utilization of stranded gas based generation capacity The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its approval to a policy to revive and improve utilization of gas based power generation capacity in the country.18 This capacity has been under-utilized due to shortfall in the production of domestic natural gas in the country. The policy will create a mechanism through which Regasified Liquified Natural Gas (RLNG) will be imported to supply to stranded gas plants so that they can generate power. Under this mechanism, the central and state government will exempt the imported RLNG from certain taxes and levies. Gas transporters and re-gasification terminals will reduce their transportation tariff, marketing margin and regasification charges on RLNG. The central government has also proposed to provide support to Discoms from the Power System Development Fund (PSDF) through a transparent reverse ebidding process. With the discovery of domestic natural gas in the Krishna Godavari river basin, the availability of natural gas in the country was expected to increase. This led to the setting up of several gas based power plants. However, the supply of domestic gas to power plants from the river basin started declining in 2012 and completely stopped in March 2013. Since then, these gas based power plants have been under-utilized or not operating. This new mechanism is expected to improve the supply of natural gas to these plants. 

The #Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 passed by Parliament

The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was passed by Parliament on March 12, 2015.4 The Bill replaced an Ordinance which was promulgated in December 2014. Key features of the Bill include:
  Foreign Shareholding: The composite foreign equity investment cap of 49% in Indian companies should be inclusive of all forms of foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investments.
  Capital Requirements: In addition to defining a health insurance business, the Bill states that a company engaged exclusively in the health insurance business cannot register unless it has a paid up equity capital of Rs 100 crore. Additionally, a provision has been introduced stating that a foreign reinsurer has to have net owned funds of at least Rs 5,000 crore in order to register the insurance company.
  Appeals: According to the Act, the government can appoint an officer to ensure compliance of capital requirements by a general or life insurer. This decision can be appealed in the High Court. The Bill states that the appointment can be made by IRDA, and that this decision can be appealed in the Securities Appellate Tribunal.

Bill related to regulation and #taxation of undisclosed foreign income introduced

The Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 20, 2015, by the Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley. 6 The Bill will apply to Indian citizens and seeks to replace the Income Tax Act, 1961 for the taxation of foreign income. It penalizes the concealment of income, and provides for criminal liability for attempting to evade tax in relation to foreign income. Key provisions of the Bill include: 
 Tax rate: A flat rate of 30 per cent tax would apply to undisclosed foreign income or assets. No exemption, deduction or set off of any carried forward losses (as provided under the Income Tax Act, 1961) would apply. 
 One - time compliance opportunity: A one-time compliance opportunity to persons who have any undisclosed foreign assets will be provided for a limited period. Such persons would be permitted to file a declaration before a tax authority, and pay a penalty.
  Prosecution and penalty for offences: - Willful tax evasion: The punishment for willful attempt to evade tax in relation to foreign income or assets would be rigorous imprisonment from three to 10 years, and a fine. The penalty for nondisclosure of income would be equal to three times the amount of tax payable, in addition to tax payable at 30%. - Failure to furnish returns: If a person fails to furnish a return in respect of foreign assets or income, he would be liable for rigorous imprisonment of six months to seven years. Further, a penalty of Rs 10 lakh would apply. This would also apply to cases where the person has filed a return of income, but not disclosed his foreign assets.

Land, development and democracy

India cannot continue with a pattern of industry that yields so few jobs but has such a large ecological footprint. Neither can it be excited by the urban nightmares that its cities are today. The land law debate must be the occasion to talk about these key national agendas

The current debate on the land law is important because it affords us a chance to reflect more deeply on the nature of India’s development process and the experience of democracy for a majority of our citizens. I see the 2013 land law as part of a response — highly belated in my view — to the perception of millions of our people that while India’s economy was booming over the last two decades, they were not part of the growth story.
Indeed, many people feel that development has happened at their cost. Official estimates place the number of people displaced due to development projects since Independence at 60 million, less than a third of whom have been properly resettled. Most of the displaced are the assetless rural poor, marginal farmers, poor fisherfolk and quarry workers. Around 40 per cent of them are Adivasis and 20 per cent Dalits. Official statistics testify that on all indicators of development, Dalits and Adivasis have been the worst off groups. Already at the bottom of the development pyramid, being deprived of their land and livelihoods has completely pauperised them, forcing many to move and live in subhuman conditions in our metros. The last two decades have also seen unprecedented agrarian distress, with more than two lakh farmers committing suicide, as per the National Crime Records Bureau. This is something that had never happened before in Indian history.
A sense of hurt
It is in this backdrop that we need to understand the heightened sensitivities and palpable anger over forcible land acquisition. Given that 90 per cent of our coal, more than 50 per cent of most minerals, and prospective dam sites are mainly in Adivasi regions, there has been, and is likely to be, continuing tension over issues of land acquisition. Through these tensions, not only has a question mark been placed over our development strategy, the delicate fabric of Indian democracy has become terribly frayed at the edges. In the remote Adivasi heartlands of India, people feel such a deep and abiding sense of hurt, alienation and cynicism that they have allowed themselves to be helplessly drawn into a terrible vortex of violence and counter-violence, even when they know in their heart of hearts that it will lead to their own destruction.
The 2013 land law tried to reach out to these people, by undoing a draconian colonial Act more suited to a 19th century empire than to a 21st century vibrant democracy. At the heart of the 2013 law was the provision of seeking the consent of those whose lands were to be acquired and of caring for those whose livelihoods would be destroyed in the process. Undoing these provisions is a virtual resurrection of undiluted powers of “eminent domain”, which the 1894 law conferred on the state.
Listening to the farmer
I do not dispute the fact that there can be many situations where land is needed for a development project that could actually benefit those whose lands are being acquired. What could be the possible harm in seeking the prior, informed consent of these people, after making the effort of explaining to them how they would stand to benefit? There are those who argue that farmers would be better off giving up farming. Indeed, they say farmers do not want to farm any more. Why would these farmers conceivably say no if we were to propose more attractive and tangible alternative options to them in return for their land? Is it not for farmers to assess whether the project will actually be of benefit to them and whether the recompense offered to them is a fair bargain? And allow them to be parties in working out what could be regarded as a fair deal for all? But all this will happen only if we are willing to talk to farmers and listen to them, who, I dare say, based on my experience of listening to them for 25 years, have a great deal to teach us.
Importance of SIA
This is the essence of Social Impact Assessment (SIA), which was again at the heart of the 2013 law. SIA is an instrument meant to assess the positive and negative impacts of the project and also to assess whether the objectives of the proposed project could not be achieved in some other manner, especially by acquiring significantly less fertile, multi-cropped land, a crucial requirement of national food security. When we look back at the history of land acquisition in India, we find it riddled with instances of far too much land being acquired and not being put to use. Just one look at the huge amounts of unused land in possession of many of our universities today would make you see the point. And as a recent study by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reveals, of the over 60,000 hectares of land acquired for Special Economic Zones (SEZs), from 2006 to 2013, around 53 per cent has not been put to any use. Just because it was possible to bully uninformed village people, we continued to do so.
SIA is an attempt to check these kinds of malpractices. It is also a way of making sure that land acquisition is not an easy way for the real estate mafia to make a quick buck in the name of development. The CAG study found many instances of land acquired at rates much below the market value being diverted to private builders in urban areas for commercial exploitation after denotification. The 2013 Act provided for the return of unused land to the original owner in cases where the land has not been used for the purposes for which it was acquired within five years. This is a key provision that should be retained.
SIA is an attempt to restore the declining faith in the democratic process, by reaching out to those who believe all decisions affecting their lives are made in distant, uncaring corridors of power, leaving them without any say. Incidentally, SIA is also best practice in development projects across the world. The 2013 law was a belated attempt to catch up with what other nations have been doing for long. Doing away with SIA would destroy a very powerful means of what is globally termed “conflict prevention”, a variety of activities aimed at anticipating and averting the outbreak of conflict.
Many people are rightly concerned about the slow pace of decision-making in development projects. They wish to do away with democracy-building, consent-seeking processes. But repeated experience shows that the attempt to push through projects without the consent of local people only results in massive delays, costing huge sums of money to the project developer. For an enlightened capitalist, it would be far more sensible and expeditious to conduct business in a peaceful, consensual atmosphere, rather than being repeatedly prevented from functioning due to endless strife and conflict. The 2013 law has proposed a time-bound SIA, which could be a powerful means of conflict prevention by taking local communities on board and making them integral partners in development. There are many instances of this across the world, as also in India.
Need for debate
The enactment of the 2013 law was a real struggle, with many, across partisan divides, fiercely opposing it. A key role in its passage was played by Parliament, which instilled the law with necessary balance. The extraordinary leadership provided by the present Speaker of the Lok Sabha was crucial in seeing the Act through with complete unanimity. Her sagacity and consensus-building skills, as Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, helped reconcile conflicting arguments into a seamless whole.
It is the very same spirit that the nation seeks today from Parliament, for balance and compromise are the hallmarks of a democracy. This has not been an empty debate. All sides have had powerful points to make. All the concerns being expressed are genuine national concerns. The country needs industrialisation and urbanisation. But their specific forms need to be debated. Surely, we cannot continue with a pattern of industry that yields so few jobs, and one that has such a large ecological, especially water, footprint. We also cannot be excited by the urban nightmares that our cities are today. The debate on the land law is a great occasion to move the dialogue forward on these key national agendas. If we want to acquire the land of farmers to serve larger goals, surely the projects in which they are embodied must not be of the kinds that repeat the mistakes of the past. The people of this country, who are being asked to make sacrifices for the larger national good, must know and be convinced that what they give up will indeed serve a meaningful “public purpose” and not involve the injustices and malpractices of the past. That is why the consent and SIA clauses need to be retained in the land law that Parliament eventually passes. Let us not reduce it to a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) vs. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) issue. Let us hope Parliament will rise above narrow partisan politics and seize this opportunity to provide an appropriate response to the utterly tragic suicide of Gajendra Singh.

Ten things to know about the #GST Bill

The Goods and Services Tax is one of the main items on the finance agenda of the BJP government. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that it can raise India’s GDP by one to two per cent.As the Lok Sabha takes up the GST Bill, here is your cheat sheet to the debate:
1Officially, the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Second Amendment) Bill 2014.
2It was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 19, 2014 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
3The Bill seeks to amend the Constitution to introduce a goods and services tax (GST) which will subsumes various Central indirect taxes, including the Central Excise Duty, Countervailing Duty, Service Tax, etc. It also subsumes State value added tax (VAT), octroi and entry tax, luxury tax, etc.
4The Bill inserts a new Article in the Constitution make legislation on the taxation of goods and services a concurrent power of the Centre and the States.
5The Bill seeks to shift the restriction on States for taxing the sale or purchase of goods to the supply of goods or services.
6The Bill seeks to establish a GST Council tasked with optimising tax collection for goods and services by the State and Centre. The Council will consist of the Union Finance Minister (as Chairman), the Union Minister of State in charge of revenue or Finance, and the Minister in charge of Finance or Taxation or any other, nominated by each State government.
7The GST Council will be the body that decides which taxes levied by the Centre, States and local bodies will go into the GST; which goods and services will be subjected to GST; and the basis and the rates at which GST will be applied.
8Under the Bill, alcoholic liquor for human consumption is exempted from GST. Also, it will be up to the GST Council to decide when GST would be levied on various categories of fuel, including crude oil and petrol.
9The Centre will levy an additional one per cent tax on the supply of goods in the course of inter-State trade, which will go to the States for two years or till when the GST Council decides.
10Parliament can decide on compensating States for up to a five-year period if States incur losses by implementation of GST.

The world’s strongest #earthquakes since 1900

Saturday's quake is touted to be worst in the Himalayan nation in over 80 years. A look at the world's strongest earthquakes since 1900.

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley on Saturday, the worst quake in the Himalayan nation in over 80 years. The world’s strongest earthquakes since 1900:

The world's strongest earthquakes since 1900

  • Jan. 31, 1906 - A magnitude—8.8 quake off the coast of Ecuador generates a tsunami that kills at least 500 people.
  • Nov. 11, 1922 - A magnitude-8.5 quake along the Chile—Argentina border triggers a tsunami that causes damage along Chile’s coast.
  • Feb. 3, 1923 - A magnitude-8.5 quake in Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East triggers a tsunami.
  • Feb.1 , 1938 - A magnitude-8.5 quake in Banda Sea, Indonesia, generates a small tsunami.
  • Aug. 15, 1950 - A magnitude-8.6 earthquake in Tibet kills at least 780 people.
  • Nov. 4, 1952 - A magnitude-9.0 quake in Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East causes damage but no reported deaths despite setting off 9.1-meter (30-foot) waves in Hawaii.
  • March 9, 1957 - A magnitude-8.6 quake strikes the Andreanof Islands in Alaska triggers a 16-meter (52-foot) -high tsunami.
  • May 22, 1960 - A magnitude-9.5 earthquake in southern Chile and ensuing tsunami kill at least 1,716 people.
  • Oct. 13, 1963 - A magnitude-8.5 quake in the Kuril Islands triggers a tsunami.
  • March 28, 1964 - A magnitude-9.2 quake in Prince William Sound, Alaska, kills 131 people, including 128 from a tsunami.
  • Feb. 4, 1965 - A magnitude-8.7 quake strikes Alaska’s Rat Islands, causing an 11-meter (35—foot) -high tsunami.
  • Dec. 26, 2004 - A magnitude-9.1 quake in Indonesia triggers an Indian Ocean tsunami, killing 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
  • March 28, 2005 - A magnitude-8.6 quake in northern Sumatra in Indonesia kills about 1,300 people.
  • Sept. 12, 2007 - A magnitude-8.5 quake near Sumatra in Indonesia kills at least 25 people.
  • Feb. 27, 2010 - A magnitude-8.8 quake shakes Chile, generating a tsunami and killing 524 people.
  • March 11, 2011 - A magnitude-9.0 quake off the northeast coast of Japan triggers a tsunami, killing more than 18,000 people.
  • April 11, 2012 - A magnitude-8.6 quake off the west coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia triggers tsunami warnings in more than two dozen nations.

India's aid to Nepal named #'Operation Maitri'

The Indian Army has named the aid to Nepal 'Operation Maitri' or friendship, a day after it started extending help to the neighbouring country that was hit by a massive earthquake just before noon on Saturday, leaving a trail of death and destruction.
In addition to the specialist teams of its National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), India has already moved large amounts of relief material to the Himalayan kingdom, besides its Air Force moving essential supplies to Nepal and flying back over 500 of its stranded citizens from its capital Kathmandu since late Saturday.
"India is moving in massive amount of rescue and relief material, equipment and specialists the second day (Sunday)," said Sitanshu Kar, the spokesperson for the defence ministry.
"Ten flights are planned for Kathmandu today (Sunday). These would be airlifting army's forward hospitals, engineering task forces, water, food, National Disaster Response Force teams, medical personnel and equipment, blankets and tents."


24 April 2015

Water Pollution

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has identified 150 polluted rivers stretches in the year 2008. A comprehensive study has been conducted through SPCBs for 29 of these river stretches for assessment of polluting sources and estimation of pollution load reaching the river.

World Health Organization has informed that in the recent past, it has not published any report indicating high level of water pollution in Indian cities.

Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoE,F&CC) has been supplementing the efforts of the State Governments in abatement of pollution of various rivers and lakes/wetlands under the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) and National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystem (NPCA) respectively. NRCP has covered polluted stretches of 40 rivers in 121 towns spread over 19 States at an expenditure of Rs.4876.40 crore. Sewage treatment capacity of 3833.49 million litres per day (mld) has been created so far. In addition, MoE,F&CC has released Rs 605.05 crore for conservation of 63 lakes and Rs.138.53 crore for conservation of 80 wetlands.

CPCB has made a comprehensive programme on water pollution for controlling point sources by developing industry specific standards and general standards for sewage which have been notified under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 which are to be enforced by the SPCBs/PCCs. Various steps including Environmental Auditing, promotion of Common Effluent Treatment Plants, promotion of Low Waste and No Waste technology, augmenting flow in rivers, Rain Water Harvesting practices, implementation of guidelines prepared for idol immersion in rivers and lakes, promotion of Zero Liquid Discharge and sewage treatment infrastructure in the housing projects etc. are being taken for the abatement of pollution.

National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) proposes to tap the drains and treat the waste water to improve the quality of water in river Ganga.

Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) monitors ground water quality of shallow aquifers once every year during pre-monsoon (April/May). The data generated are shared with concerned State Government departments for taking necessary remedial actions. CGWB also provides technical guidance to State agencies in tackling the problem of water quality. The real time monitoring system has been established on river Ganga (8 nos.), Yamuna (3 nos.), Gomti (1 no.) and Ramganga (1 no.) by MoE,F&CC and MoWR, RD & GR and the same is proposed to be extended to the polluted rivers and industrial units in the country in a phased manner for creating a warning mechanism. 113 locations have been identified on the main stem of Ganga for the purpose. 

Growing threat to Great Indian #Hornbills

The magnificent birds which were a common sight in the Western Ghats are rarely seen, due to deforestation.

Since yore a sight to behold in many parts of the Blue Mountains, a Great Indian Hornbill (Buceros Bicornis) flying from one tree to another, may in a matter of time become extremely rare if habitat loss continues at the rate at which it has been happening for sometime now.

Conservationists concerned
With this concern growing among conservationists in general and birders in particular, a nature enthusiast-cum-wildlife photographer of the Nilgiris, M. Murali, who has been keeping track of Great Indian Hornbills in the district for the past few years, regrets that the magnificent birds which were a common sight in the evergreen rain forests of the Western Ghats are now forced, due to deforestation, to adapt themselves to hollows in silver oak trees which form part of thick coffee plantations in Singara and Moyar and some tea plantations in the lower part of the hills.

Stating that it now takes a great deal of effort and patience to spot a hornbill, he told The Hindu here on Wednesday that those familiar with its characteristics keep their ears open for its take off sound which is akin to the start of the steam locomotive of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

Pointing out that the hornbills are mostly dependent on wild berries, he lamented that they were also becoming increasingly hard to come by.

The birds which follow a unique nesting style are also being targeted by poachers for their meat and casques, he said.

#14thFinance Commission awards more than 3 times grant to #Panchayats

14th Finance Commission awards more than 3 times grant to Panchayats
The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will address a Conference on National Panchayati Raj Day tomorrow to highlight the steps taken by the Government for real devolution of administrative and financial powers. It is to be noted that the 14th Finance Commission has awarded Rs. 200,292.2 crores to Panchayats for 2015-2020, which is more than three times the grant of the 13th Finance Commission, FC. This amount is fixed. The 13th FC had recommended a percentage of the divisible pool for local bodies, and the estimated grant for Panchayats was Rs. 63,051 crores. While the 13th FC grant was for all three tiers of Panchayats: district, block and Gram Panchayat, the 14th FC grant is for Gram Panchayats only. The fund availability at the GP level will now be Rs. 2,404 per capita over five years, and Rs. 17 lakh per year (Rs.85 lakh for five years) for an average GP. The Fourteenth FC grant is to be spent on basic services such as sanitation, drinking water, maintenance of community assets etc. For this, Panchayats will have to prepare local plans, to ensure that these basic services reach everyone, including the most marginalized sections of society. Panchayats can especially focus on sanitation.

The Prime Minister will also release the Devolution Index Report 2014-15 on the occasion. The Study on ‘How effective is devolution across Indian States? –Insights from the field’ was undertaken by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai for the year 2014-15. Previous studies had focused on the initiatives taken by States to comply with the Constitutional mandate by way of legislation and enabling policy, coupled with policy initiatives for governance, accountability and capability development, and ranked States accordingly.

The present study attempts to match functional devolution in each domain listed in the Eleventh Schedule with devolution of resources both financial and human, and to validate the extent of devolution undertaken by the State by the effectiveness of devolution on the ground- ie, in the three tier Panchayats. 

#Indo - French Naval Exercise #Varuna Commences at Goa

Indo - French Naval Exercise Varuna Commences at Goa
Fourteenth (14th) edition of Indo-French naval exercise (VARUNA) started with the arrival of four French naval ships at Goa today. Representing the French Navy is Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle, two destroyers Chevalier Paul and Jean de Vienne, replenishment tanker Meuse and a maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique 2. The Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle is carrying its complement of fighter aircraft Rafale M, Strike Aircraft Super Etendard, E2C Hawkeye AWACS and helicopters Dauphin and Alouette 3.

Aircraft Carrier INS Viraat, destroyer Mumbai, stealth frigate Tarkash, guided missile frigate Gomati, replenishment tanker Deepak, submarine Shankul and a few Fast Attack Craft are participating from the Indian side. Aviation assets of the Indian Navy participating in VARUNA-15 include carrier-borne fighter aircraft Sea Harriers, maritime reconnaissance aircraft P-8 I and Dorniers along with integral helicopters Seaking 42B and Chetak.

The scope of Exercise VARUNA includes the entire gamut of maritime operations from Aircraft Carrier Operations, Anti Submarines Warfare Exercises, Maritime Interdiction Operations to multi-ship replenishment exercise.

Regular IN-FN interaction over the years has allowed both navies to gradually and systematically increase the complexity and professional content of the joint exercises. VARUNA aims at deriving mutual benefit from the experiences of the two navies. The confidence gained through such exercises helps develop Standard Operating Procedures, particularly in the fields of Joint Maritime Air Operations Planning with exchange of Carrier Operational Capabilities. The other joint exercises include Coordinated Anti-Submarine Exercises, Surface Exercises, Cross Deck Flying, Damage Control and Fire Fighting, Air Defence, Firing Drills, Air to Sea Firing, Tactical Exercises and Visit Board Search and Seize Operations, which further hone the fighting efficiency of the two combat forces.

VARUNA-15 is scheduled from 23 Apr 15 to 02 May 15 off Goa and is aimed at further strengthening bilateral ties between India and France.


Relations between India and France have traditionally been close and friendly. With the establishment of strategic partnership in 1998, there has been significant progress in all areas of bilateral cooperation and exchanges including naval exercises. The Indian Navy and the French Navy have been conducting naval exercises since 1983 and following the establishment of a strategic partnership, these exercises were christened as ‘VARUNA’ in 2001. Till date, thirteen such exercises have been conducted and the last exercise VARUNA 12 was conducted in the Mediterranean Sea from 19-22 Jul 12 off Toulon. 

23 April 2015

Satellite Navigational System to benefit country in the areas of civil aviation, high sea and inland waterway navigation and other fields

Satellite Navigational System to benefit country in the areas of civil aviation, high sea and inland waterway navigation and other fields
In the area of satellite navigation, India has already established GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) system primarily for the use by aviation sector. GAGAN provides improved position accuracy over the Indian region. This system is based on Global Positioning System (GPS) of USA.

Further, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has undertaken a project for developing an indigenous regional positioning system for India known as Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). IRNSS consists of seven satellites in a constellation, three satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) and four satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GSO). IRNSS will provide positioning and navigational services in Indian mainland and surrounding region upto 1500 Km. Out of the 7 satellites required in the constellation, four satellites namely, IRNSS-IA, 1B, 1C and 1D have already been successfully placed in the orbit.

GAGAN System has already been certified by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to provide Non-Precision Approach services for “En-route Navigation” over Indian Airspace and it is expected to operationalise in the year 2015.

IRNSS is expected to operationalise in the year 2016.

The Satellite Navigational System will benefit the country in the areas of civil aviation, high sea and inland waterway navigation, rail transport, patrol services and vehicle tracking & fleet monitoring. The navigation system provides precise position & location information and accurate timing information to the users which will benefit the user by way of improved efficiency of operations, cost and time saving, enhanced safety of people, etc.

Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea and Russia have expressed interest for cooperation in satellite navigation and applications. The cooperation will be pursued on receiving specific proposals from these countries. 

Operation Five Minutes’

Operation Five Minutes’ - Now Unreserved Ticketing on your Mobile Phone

Suresh Prabhu Launches Mobile App for Paperless Unreserved Ticketing
Fulfilling yet another commitment of the Railway Budget 2015-16, the Minister of Railways Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu launched Mobile Application for Paperless Unreserved Ticketing through video conferencing on Egmore–Tambaram Suburban Section of Chennai, at a function here today. This is a pilot project covering 15 stations in Southern Railway and will be extended to entire country in phases. Referring his Railway Budget announcement, the Railway Minister said that for the passenger, the Indian Railways is committed to ‘Operation Five Minutes’ – that is, purchase of an unreserved ticket within five minutes and today’s launching of Paperless Unreserved Mobile Ticket is the first step in this area. He said that it will allow the passenger to buy a ticket on the move and allow him or her to board the train with the ticket secured on his or her mobile phone, without any need for printing the ticket. Shri Suresh Prabhu commended all the members of CRIS to develop the Paperless Unreserved Ticketing Mobile Application and hoped for speedy implementation of other IT projects in the pipeline. The railway Minister said that the innovative ideas are always welcome and said that he has set up ‘Kayakalp’ Council which will consider innovative ideas for the betterment of Indian Railways.

Shri Suresh Prabhu also unveiled the plaque for the foundation of the Indian Railways Datacentre in Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), an IT wing of Indian Railways, which will provide state-of-the art facilities to house the required computer equipment. Shri Prabhu said that he would expect this new building to be environmental friendly and called upon the officials to complete the construction of this building before scheduled deadline ensuring quality with less cost. 

Revamping #publicprocurement

A properly designed and implemented procurement law is long overdue. It can improve financial management, and bring large financial and governance benefits

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s 2015-16 budget speech signalled the government’s commitment to formally legalise India’s public procurement system as a part of its continuing reforms in public financial management. Following this, the Ministry of Finance is seeking suggestions to refine the Public Procurement Bill of 2012, introduced by the previous government.
The jurisdiction of the Bill covers any Ministry or Department and any public sector undertaking of the Union government, or any company in which the government has a stake of more than 50 per cent. The procurement processes of the States and the local governments are thus not covered by the Bill.
It is in this context that we focus on three aspects relating to the Bill: its potential benefits, selected design features, and implementation challenges.
There are many benefits of a well-designed and well-implemented public procurement policy. These include fiscal savings from annual procurement expenditure; generating much needed fiscal space; and enhanced flexibility to channel government expenditure into growth-enhancing areas. It could also help in a shift towards rule-based institutional procurement.
However, the poor quality of data on procurement expenditure and its major components means that we don’t have a good estimate of potential savings from a better process. The problem needs to be addressed. Our crude estimate of potential savings generated by the revised Bill ranges between 0.6 per cent and 1.2 per cent of GDP, depending on the extent of efficiency achieved. This could assist in addressing the revenue deficit of 2.9 per cent of GDP projected for 2014-15 by the budget.
The savings would be greater if the States, whose expenditure equals that of the Union government, and all the public enterprises, also initiated similar procurement reforms. This task could be entrusted to NITI Aayog.
Several measures may be suggested to improve the design features. In its present form, the Bill’s objective is too complex, which dilutes accountability. Hence, a simpler set of objectives, as is also a global practice, would be desirable. This would also assist in improving the accountability of procuring agencies, and facilitate the task of internal and external auditing agencies.
Second, the Bill’s definition of the ‘procurement process’ implies that post-tendering steps such as contract management, payment, monitoring and so on, after the award of a contract, are excluded from the ‘procurement process’. The definition should be broadened to include the post-tendering procedures.
Third, given judicial delays and the lack of economic literacy often displayed by the judiciary, non-judicial procurement redress committees would be preferable. This needs to be better specified in the Bill to prevent undue discretion by procurement agencies and redress committees.
Fourth, the international practice is to designate a nodal agency for procurement. Hence, we need to clarify whether the proposed Central Purchasing Organisation (CPO) will be such an agency. When a framework for the nodal agency is established, it will need to be reconciled with the decentralised procurement process, which has also been suggested by the two recent committees to the Indian Railways.
Fifth, the Bill is not applicable to procurements for less than Rs. 5 million, emergency procurements made for disaster management, and procurements for the purpose of national security. While excluding the latter two government activities is routine, the basis for discretion for procurements below Rs. 5 million, which is a significant amount, is not defined. The corresponding procedures for such procurements should also be specified.
Sixth, the Bill also permits the procuring entity to limit competition in order to achieve other objectives, as well as exempt certain procurements from any of the provisions in the legislation such as the transparency requirements in “public interest”. However, in case of limited competition, certain other requirements such as reporting requirements, advance contract award notice, risk management techniques should be introduced to ensure that transparency is achieved.
Once a revised Bill is passed by Parliament, the following implementation challenges will need to be addressed.
First, data management capabilities and standardisation must be enhanced. Both bidders and procuring agencies have significant data and information needs to ensure transparency in public procurements. Hence, the new procurement regime needs to be accompanied by streamlined data and information systems for various aspects of public tenders that are put out and the standardisation of information provided in the submitted bids against the tenders.
Second, the 2012 Bill contains more than 20 references to ‘rules’. However, the general principles on which the rules will be based require clarity. Once defined in the Bill, the rules must be coherent and credible, while permitting flexibility.
Third, there is an implementation challenge concerning the skill sets of the officials, who will be at the interface of public procurement. Public procurement should be regarded as a task requiring professional skills. Capacity building in this direction should be undertaken urgently to ensure appropriate skill sets and that an understanding of business practices and logic is inculcated in the officials and in the organisations seeking procurement contracts.
Designing and implementing a strong procurement policy is a long overdue step towards better public financial management, and it has large potential fiscal and governance benefits. Its early passage, therefore, should be a high priority.

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