Current Affairs 16 January 2017 – Netaji IAS

 

 

Bihar Boat Tragedy

Why in news?

  • With four more bodies recovered, the death toll in Saturday evening’s boat tragedy in Bihar rose to 24. The boat carrying over 60 people capsized in the Ganga while coming to the NIT ghat in Patna from Sandalpur area.

Is this an administrative failure?

  • The boat disaster is another reminder that safety in public transport remains a low priority for governments. Mishaps in the inland waterways and lakes take a terrible toll of lives regularly, with no effective administrative response.
  • In the Ganga Diara tragedy near Patna, a large number of people had apparently crammed themselves into a small vessel for a free ride after witnessing a kite festival.
  • The boat involved appears not to have used its engine at the time of the accident, but the absence of safety training for operators is painfully evident.
  • The accident has exposed glaring holes in the system in place for water transport in the area: of the 50 private boats that ply on this section of the Ganga every day, over 30 are not registered and none carries life-jackets or safety tubes.
  • There is a rule in place that boats shouldn’t ply after sunset. But this is often flouted with hardly any government officials present here during normal days.
  • Besides, officials said, NDRF teams were not called in as standby for the festival, which is being held annually for the last three years, and has been attracting thousands.
  • The capsized boat was pulled out from 15-ft-deep water by the NDRF on Sunday — its front portion was completely damaged. This was obviously the result of serious neglect of safety norms for which accountability must be fixed.

What needs to be done?

  • It is essential that a judicial commission be constituted to inquire into the incident, to determine whether the laws on transport using inland waterways are being implemented and to issue directions for the future.
  • The Centre should respond to the shameful national record on boat safety by firmly implementing existing laws and introducing new measures along with the States.
  • Just last year it expanded the National Waterways programme and notified several stretches of rivers and canals for a new deal for inland water transport.
  • Just as in the case of motor vehicles, registration of inland vessels other than small personal non-powered craft must be made mandatory.
  • This will help enforce construction standards, subsidy for transport boats, passenger insurance and accident compensation.

Concluding remarks:

  • In the latest tragedy, the problem also appears to have been inadequate supply, which forced people to pack themselves into the available boats. If this is true, the Bihar government must own full responsibility and prevent a recurrence.
  • This incident must stir the conscience of governments whose duty it is to provide safe and adequate public transport, and one at which it failed badly.

 

Category: Mains | GS – III | Disaster Management

Source: The Hindu

Three New Additions To The Vaccination Basket

Why in news?

  • The basket of vaccines in India’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) was static for many years — until the entry of the Pentavalent vaccine [Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus B (HIB)], and Japanese Encephalitis vaccines.
  • There have been regular additions to the basket since. Two new vaccines — Measles-Rubella (MR) and Pneumococcal Conjugate — are lined up for launch in January and February respectively, and a third, Rotavirus Vaccine, will become part of the UIP in 5 states — from February.

What is rubella, and why is vaccination for it important?

  • More commonly known as German Measles, Congenital Rubella Syndrome, or CRS, is believed to affect about 25,000 children born in India every year.
  • Symptoms can include cataracts and deafness, and the disease can also affect the heart and the brain.
  • 10-30% of adolescent females and 12-30% of women in the reproductive age-group are susceptible to rubella infection in India.

In which states will the MR vaccine be introduced?

  • After its formal launch on January 17, the vaccine will be introduced in Goa, Karnataka, Lakshadweep, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu around February 3-4.
  • The Health Ministry will run a campaign among children aged 9 months to 15 years before making the vaccine a part of routine immunisation. Two shots will be given — one between the ages of 9-12 months, the other at age one-and-a- half.
  • The monovalent measles vaccine is already part of the UIP basket of 10 vaccines; it will be discontinued once MR is introduced.

What is Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV)?

  • PCV is a mix of several bacteria of the pneumococci family, which are known to cause pneumonia — hence ‘conjugate’ in the name. Pneumonia caused by the pneumococcus bacteria is supposed to be the most common.
  • Pneumonia and diarrhoea have long been responsible for the most child deaths in India — approximate estimates say pneumonia is responsible for about 20% of under-5 child mortality in India, of which half are of pneumococcal origin.
  • In 2008, the WHO’s Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group reported that 5 countries in which 44% of the world’s children aged less than 5 years live (India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nigeria) contribute more than half of all new pneumonia cases annually.
  • It estimated around 43 million pneumonia cases (23% of the global total) and an incidence of 0.37 episodes per child-year for clinical pneumonia in India.

Which states will PCV be introduced?

  • In Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from March 17. Three doses will be administered at one-and-a-half months, three-and-a-half months and 9 months.
  • The annual incidence of severe pneumococcal pneumonia in India was estimated to be 4.8 episodes per 1,000 children younger than 5 years.
  • The top five contributors to India’s pneumococcal pneumonia burden in terms of number of cases and deaths were Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.

Where will the rotavirus vaccine be introduced?

  • Rotavirus infections are the most common cause of diarrhoea in children. The rotavirus vaccine first became a part of UIP in April 2016.
  • An estimated 1 lakh children die every year of the disease.
  • The vaccine is currently being administered in HP, Haryana, Odisha and AP. From February, it will be a part of UIP also in Assam, Tripura, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

 

Category: Prelims & Mains | GS – II | Health

Source: The Indian Express

Lt Governor Of Puducherry & Delhi

Why in news?

Lt Governor (LG) of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi, claimed that she has powers to overlook the Legislature based on circumstances and can correct mistakes in the Budget.

What are the powers of LG of Puducherry?

  • Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 provides for a Legislative Assembly of Pondicherry, with a Council of Ministers to govern the “Union Territory of Pondicherry”.
  • It states that the UT will be administered by the President of India through an Administrator (LG). It also has following provisons.
  • Extent of legislative power – MLAs “may make laws for the whole or any part of the Union Territory with respect to any of the matters enumerated in the State List or the Concurrent List”.
  • Council of Ministers – The Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister will “aid and advise the Administrator in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory has power to make laws”.
  • LG – The same clause also allows the LG to “act in his discretion” in the matter of lawmaking, even though the Council of Ministers has the task of aiding and advising him.
  • In case of a difference of opinion between the LG and his Ministers on any matter, the Administrator is bound to refer it to the President for a decision and act accordingly.
  • However, the Administrator can also claim that the matter is urgent, and take immediate action as he deems necessary.
  • Prior permission – A prior sanction of the Administrator is required for certain legislative proposals. They include Bills or amendments that deal with the “constitution and organisation of the court of the Judicial Commissioner”, and “jurisdiction and powers of the court of the Judicial Commissioner with respect to any of the matters in the State List or the Concurrent List”.
  • Recommendation – It is obligatory on the part of the UT government to seek the “recommendation” of the LG before moving a Bill or an amendment to provide for “the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax”, “the amendment of the law with respect to any financial obligations undertaken or to be undertaken”, and anything that has to do with the Consolidated Fund of the UT.
  • Once the Assembly has passed a Bill, the LG can either grant or withhold his assent; or reserve it for the consideration of the President. He can also send it back to the Assembly for reconsideration.
  • The manner in which the LG functions vis-à-vis the elected government (Council of Ministers) is also spelt out in the Rules of Business of the Government of Pondicherry, 1963, issued on June 22, 1963.
  • The Administrator exercises powers regulating the conditions of service of persons serving in the UT government, in consultation with the Chief Minister.
  • In case the LG has a difference of opinion with the Chief Minister, he can refer the matter to the central government for the decision of the President.

How it is different from Delhi?

  • Both Delhi and Puducherry has an elected legislature and government but the powers of the LG of Puducherry are different from the ones of the LG of Delhi.
  • The LG of Delhi has “Executive Functions” that allow him to exercise his powers in matters connected to public order, police and land “in consultation with the Chief Minister, if it is so provided under any order issued by the President under Article 239 of the Constitution”.
  • While the LG of Delhi is also guided by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, and the Transaction of Business of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules, 1993, the LG of Puducherry is guided mostly by the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963.
  • Articles 239 and 239AA of the Constitution, as well as the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, clearly underline that Delhi is a UT, where the Centre, whose eyes and ears are the LG, has a much more prominent role than in Puducherry.
  • Under the constitutional scheme, the Delhi Assembly has the power to legislate on all subjects except law and order and land.
  • However, the Puducherry Assembly can legislate on any issue under the Concurrent and State Lists.
  • However, if the law is in conflict with a law passed by Parliament, the law passed by Parliament prevails.
  • Simply put, the LG of Delhi enjoys greater powers than the LG of Puducherry.

 

Category: Mains | GS – II | Polity

Source: The Indian Express

Need For Tax Information Exchange Agreements

What is the postivie side of 2008 financial crisis?

  • The global financial meltdown of 2008 has had severe after-effects, impacting millions of people across the world, job losses, challenges faced by sovereign nations in meeting their debt obligations etc.,
  • There is however one positive outcome: It brought the issue of “tax transparency” to the forefront. Governments across the globe came under pressure to support, through various social welfare measures, those of their people who were hit by the downturn.
  • Therefore, to augment their revenues, governments were forced to evaluate existing and new sources of revenue.
  • In this process, individual and collective measures were taken by governments to usher in a new era of information sharing to increase revenue collections through various measures such as changes in their domestic tax laws and other regulations, and implementation of Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) guidelines.

What is BEPS?

  • Usually, a company has to pay tax for its profit or income. This profit is the tax base for the government as tax is imposed as a percentage of this profit.
  • Once profit is shifted to other countries or to tax havens, the tax base is eroded and there is no tax payment by the company in the concerned country.
  • In recent years, MNCs are innovating sophisticated tax planning practices to avoid taxes by shifting profits to tax havens. This has resulted in the erosion of tax base.
  • This has led to the launching of the so called BEPS project by the OECD. It has designed a fifteen point action plan to bring tackle the problem of profit shifting.
  • The BEPS initiative, approved by the G20, to design a globally standardized rules to check tax avoidance practices by the MNCs so that there will be no tax base erosion.

What is causing distortions in global tax system?

  • The tax jurisdictions with zero or near-zero tax regimes have led to distortions in the global tax system, depriving other tax jurisdictions of their legitimate tax revenues.
  • Recent press and web releases about data leakages from some of these jurisdictions have again brought the issue of tax transparency into the limelight.
  • While combating the domestic black economy is not an easy task, it is even more cumbersome where overseas tax jurisdictions are involved.

Why international cooperation is a key element?

  • The Union government had released a “White paper on black money”, which highlighted that increased globalisation and relaxation of control over foreign exchange provides taxpayers greater opportunities for tax evasion.
  • It further mentioned that while taxpayers operate globally, tax administrators remain confined to their respective jurisdictions. Thus, to effectively tackle tax evasion, it is imperative that tax administrators cooperate with each other.
  • A key element of such international cooperation in tax matters is through the exchange of information mechanisms established by countries.

What are the problems our authorities face?

  • Obtaining information, corroborating evidence, and finally the trial in a court are generally long, tedious and time-consuming processes in India.
  • Besides, Indian authorities have been facing is the lack of formal legislative mechanisms and processes through which they could obtain information from overseas tax jurisdictions.

What are avenues for getting Tax Information?

  • A country can request information from another country under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) entered into between them.
  • In the absence of a DTAA between the two tax jurisdictions, information can be sought under Tax Information Exchange Agreements (or TIEA), which have evolved into an efficacious alternative to DTAAs for exchange of information.

What are the steps taken at global level?

  • Accordingly, India has taken steps to re-negotiate its DTAAs with other countries to strengthen exchange of information. The process of entering into TIEAs, has now picked up steam, with more than a dozen such agreements being signed in the recent past.
  • Further, in order to give effect to the BEPS recommendations, countries had to modify their bilateral tax treaties entered into earlier, which is a tedious and time-consuming process.
  • Therefore, a more practical and effective approach of agreeing on terms through a Multilateral Instrument has been adopted, whereby member countries, including India, would agree to and adopt certain basic covenants to give effect to BEPS.
  • This would be a significant step at a global level to further bring in tax transparency through a single platform.

Way Forward:

  • India has been actively seeking to tax off-shore wealth. It has not only been party to international developments, but has also taken steps like introduction of The Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Asset) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015.
  • In a significant move, India has recently signed a “Joint Declaration” with Switzerland for the implementation of automatic exchange of information between the two countries.
  • As a result, it will be possible for India to receive, from September 2019 onwards, financial information relating to accounts held by Indian residents in Switzerland for 2018 and subsequent years, on an automatic basis.
  • Indian revenue authorities are significantly adding strength to their armoury through TIEAs and similar measures, which would yield results in the near future.

 

Category: Mains | GS – III | Economy

Source: Business Standard

Missed Targets In Pharma Sector

What is NPPA’s mandate?

  • At present, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) monitors drugs that are part of National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) and identifies players that overcharge. Issues on overcharging and price cap have been areas of tension between the pharmaceutical industry and the NPPA.
  •  Not agreeing with various drug price orders, the players have appealed to the Department of Pharmaceuticals for several cases in the past.
  • Further, the NPPA has been issuing show-cause notices to drug manufacturers for not registering with the Integrated Pharmaceutical Database Management System, where the companies would declare their products to the drug price regulator.
  • NPPA’s mandate is to fix or revise the prices of controlled bulk drugs, formulations and to enforce prices and availability of the medicines in the country.
  •  It has been entrusted with fixation of prices of scheduled drugs under the Drug (Price Control) Order, 1995 (DPCO) 1995 and DPCO 2013.
  • The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA)’s mandate will no longer be limited to fixing the prices of drugs mentioned in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM), according to the recommendations of an expert committee on restructuring NPPA.
  • NPPA is waiting for the Department of Pharmaceuticals to amend the DPCO 2013 and give it direction to fix prices of those drugs for which the regulator doesn’t possess details like in the case of stents.

Whether the DPCO, 2013 is amended?

  • There is no sign of an amendment to the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO), even as the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) struggles to fix prices of drugs in the absence of market data.
  • On the 29 August 2016, the Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers, under which the Department of Pharmaceuticals falls, had mentioned that DPCO 2013 would be amended to facilitate fixing prices of drugs.
  • However the NPPA, which has been entrusted with the task, is not equipped with adequate data to do so.
  •  While the NPPA can exercise emergency powers under DPCO 2013, it has refrained from doing so until now.

What is the need to amend?

  • There are around 140 formulations in the list of essential medicines for which the NPPA does not have market data.
  • In a recent letter to the pharma industry, it had asked retailers of these drugs to furnish their prices, stating that the companies have not been providing the requisite data despite several requests.
  • The letter also states, “Failing to get the market data, the NPPA will have no option but to proceed for price fixation of these formulations exercising extraordinary options under the DPCO 2013.”
  • This isn’t the only target the department hasn’t met.

What else have been missed?

  • The Jan Aushadhi Scheme was initiated by the UPA government and then revamped by the NDA government.
  • The purpose of the scheme was to make generics available at affordable prices.
  • The government is also planning to make medical devices available at these stores.
  • The flagship programme Jan Aushadi Scheme is nowhere near reaching its target.
  • The government had planned to get 3,000 stores up and run by the end of March 2017. It has been successful in opening 600-plus stores on the ground.
  • However, the Centre has been signing memoranda of understanding with various state governments and is also trying to involve NGOs to make the scheme a success.
  • Meanwhile, the government’s attempt to give domestic manufacturing a push through clusters has not succeeded so far.
  • The Department of Pharmaceuticals had recently, for the fourth time, invited companies to set up clusters in various parts of the country.
  • Till now, only one cluster is fully operational. Also pending are mandatory rules for marketing by pharma and medical devices companies.
  • The department of pharmaceuticals has been consulting the industry for the same. At the moment, these rules continue to be voluntary.

 

Category: Mains | GS – II | Health

Source: Business Standard

 

Report On Industrial Policy

Why in news?

The Standing Committee on Commerce submitted a report on ‘Industrial Policy in the Changing Global Scenario’ last month.

What are the recommendations?

  • Industrial reforms – Reforms must be taken up to ensure transparency in the allocation of natural resources, an open, competitive mechanism must be undertaken, along with greater disclosure of the approval process for industries.
  • Other reforms include industry-friendly land acquisition frameworks by state governments, anti-corruption reforms, better inter-ministerial coordination, and judicial, financial and efficient public procurement reforms.
  • The National Manufacturing Policy must be reoriented to promote smart manufacturing, which includes zero emission, zero-incident, and zero-defect manufacturing.
  • R&D –. India’s manufacturing value addition of $226 billion is low, compared to China’s $1,923 billion and USA’s $1,856 billion. In addition, India spends 0.8% of its GDP on research and development, compared to 1.2% by China and 2.6% by USA.
  • Therefore the government needs to provide an enabling environment for private enterprises to invest in technology creation in order to achieve high value addition.
  • Special focus must be placed on machine tools, heavy electrical equipment, transport and mining equipment.
  • FDI in small enterprises – The recent measures taken to promote foreign direct investment (FDI) mainly benefit large industries. The government may take measures to promote FDI in the small and medium enterprises sector.
  • In addition, for FDI in any industry, the ownership may be allowed to be transferred to the Indian partner after a specified period (15-20 years), including the transfer of technology.
  • Foreign investors may be encouraged to source their inputs other than technology, from within India.
  • Simplification of laws – Presently, 35 laws govern the industrial sector. This impedes the setting up of new industries and also affects their survival.
  • A single window system should be established to give all statutory clearances.
  • The labour laws and social security laws should also be reviewed.
  • Inclusion of MSME sector – The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector accounts for about 45% of the manufacturing output of the country, and about 40% of the total exports.
  • However, the sector faces issues such as lack of access to credit, technology, infrastructure, and skill development, among others. The access to finance for the MSME sector should be supplemented by alternative sources such as private equity, venture capital and angel funds.
  • The definition of MSMEs should be revised, and a dynamic definition may be developed which is indexed to inflation and international best practices.
  • Skill Development – By 2020, the median age in India is projected to be 28.1 years, as compared to China (38.1 years), Japan (48.2 years) and USA (37.3 years). The planned skill development would help India make productive use of its young population, majority of which is currently in unorganised sector.

 

Category: Mains | GS – III | Economy

Source: PRS

 

Report On SSA And Mid-Day-Meal Scheme

Why in news?

The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development submitted its report on the implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Mid-Day-Meal Scheme (MDMS).

What is SSA?

  • SSA was launched in 2000.
  • It seeks to achieve universal access to education and retention of students in schools.
  • MDMS, launched in 1995, seeks to address the issues of hunger and education in schools by serving hot cooked meals and improving the nutritional status of children, enrolment, attendance and retention rates.

What are the findings?

  • The enrolment is now near universal.
  • But the learning outcomes are still far from satisfactory.  e.g Only about half the children in standard V could do a two-digit subtraction problem with borrowing.
  • The educational development has been better in economically developed areas with strong infrastructural support as compared to the backward regions of the country.
  • The State Institutes of Educational Management and Trainings, which act on state specific issues and innovations, are absent.
  • There are wide variations in the nature and effectiveness of the District Institutes of Education and Training.
  • There are a large number of teacher vacancies under SSA, which adversely affects the implementation of the scheme.
  • MDMS led to more attendance of pupils but did not significantly aid fresh enrolments into schools.
  • MDMS has diverted the attention of teachers and students on activities related to it, rather than towards teaching and learning activities.
  • There is also a shortfall in the infrastructure required for the implementation of MDMS.  e.g Lack of pucca buildings, separate toilet facilities for boys & girls, unavailability and poor functional condition of kitchen sheds, etc.
  • The states did not follow the central government’s guidelines on delivering food grains at the school by Public Distribution System dealers.
  • There were also instances where due to the long supply chain, the supplied food grains got adulterated and pilfered.
  • The states have not earmarked funds for priority areas in education out of the increased fund devolution to states, as a part of recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission.

What are the recommendations?

  • Therefore the states should undertake measures at their own level to improve learning outcomes.
  • The policy should shift its approach from input-based expenditure to outcome-focused achievement.
  • The funding should focus on progress towards goals, such as improving learning outcomes of children in elementary schools.
  • The government should introduce programmes to minimise the gap between states with regard to educational status.
  • The discrepancies between national and state systems (such as the norms for age of entry) should be removed.
  • The vacancies created under SSA must remain as sanctioned posts and the states can recruit fresh teachers against these vacancies.
  • The district nodal authorities must strictly demand utilisation certificates from the implementing authority and the schools so that delivery of funds/food grains are not delayed.
  • The states must proportionately adjust the increased devolution of funds for education.
  • The pilot project of establishing Smart Classes in government schools must be initiated to make the teaching–learning process more effective through computer enabled techniques.

 

Category: Mains | GS – II | Social Justice

Source: PRS

 

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