A) Indices, Reports, Committees and Organisations
1. Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) (PIB)
- Context: The Union Cabinet has given its approval for the proposal of Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to sign a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Securities and Exchange Board of India and Financial and Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF), Luxembourg.
- CSSF, like SEBI, is a co-signatory to International Organization of Securities Commissions’ Multilateral MOU (IOSCO MMoU).
- However, the IOSCO MMoU does not have under its scope the provision for technical assistance.
- The proposed bilateral MOU would, in addition to contributing towards strengthening the information sharing framework leading to effective enforcement of securities laws, also help in establishing a technical assistance programme.
- The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) was established under the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 to regulate the securities markets in India.
- The objectives of the SEBI are to protect the interest of the investors and to regulate and promote development of securities markets in India.
- The main functions of SEBI include:
- registration, regulation and supervision of intermediaries operating in the securities market;
- promoting and regulating self-regulatory organizations;
- prohibiting fraudulent and unfair trade practices relating to securities markets; and
- calling from or furnishing to other authorities, whether in India or abroad, such information as may be necessary for the efficient discharge of its functions.
B) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
2. Public Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) (TH)
- Context: In a bid to improve wireless connectivity, the Union Cabinet approved setting up of public WiFi networks across the country.
- The public WiFi was being rolled out as part of the Prime Minister WiFi Access Network Interface (PM- WANI).
- The WiFi will be provided through public data offices (PDOs) for which there will be no licence, registration or any other fees.
- The PDO, to be set up along the lines of public calling office (PCO), can be a mom-and-pop store in the area or the common services centre present in various small towns, gram panchayats, and villages in the country.
- The PDOs can either provide the internet on their own or lease it from other telecom and internet service providers.
- In addition to the PDOs, there will also be PDO aggregators, which will look after the authorisation and accounting of PDOs.
- A third layer will of app providers, available for download on the Play Store as well as the Apple Store, will enable users to register for using the public WiFi at a particular place.
- Users, however, will not be required to download different apps, as a single app will provide seamless connectivity to any PDO across the country.
- Though there will be no licence for PDOs, a simple registration system will be put in place for PDO aggregators as well as app providers, which will be approved within seven days of the application being submitted.
- If the said application is not approved within seven days, it shall be deemed approved by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Prasad said.
- Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in one of its reports had said that in order to plug the gap of high speed and reliable broadband connectivity in rural and remote areas, public WiFi was one of the best ways.
- “… in most major economies, for 50 to 70 per cent of their total usage time, mobile users use WiFi technology to communicate. In India, this figure is less than 10 per cent. Therefore, there is a dire need to exploit WiFi technology also for delivering broadband services at affordable prices,” TRAI had said.
3. Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana (ABRY) (PIB)
- Context: The Union Cabinet has given its approval for Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana (ABRY) to boost employment in formal sector and incentivize creation of new employment opportunities during the Covid recovery phase under Atmanirbhar Bharat Package 3.0.
- The entire Scheme period is 2020-2023.
The salient features of the Scheme are as under:
- Government of India will provide subsidy for two years in respect of new employees engaged on or after 1stOctober, 2020 and up to 30th June, 2021
- Government of India will pay both 12% employees’ contribution and 12% employers’ contribution i.e. 24% of wages towards EPF in respect of new employees in establishments employing up to 1000 employees for two years.
- Government of India will pay only employees’ share of EPF contribution i.e. 12% of wages in respect of new employees in establishments employing more than 1000 employee for two years.
- An employee drawing monthly wage of less than Rs. 15000/- who was not working in any establishment registered with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) before 1st October, 2020 and did not have a Universal Account Number or EPF Member account number prior to 1stOctober 2020 will be eligible for the benefit,
- Any EPF member possessing Universal Account Number (UAN) drawing monthly wage of less than Rs. 15000/- who made exit from employment during Covid pandemic from 01.03.2020 to 30.09.2020 and did not join employment in any EPF covered establishment up to 30.09.2020 will also be eligible to avail benefit.
4. One Nation One Ration Card Scheme (PIB)
- Context: The Centre on Wednesday granted permission to nine States to borrow an additional ₹23,523 crore for successfully implementing the ‘One Nation One Ration card’ reform.
- Note: This article was covered in detail in 2nd Sep file.
5. Better Than Cash Alliance (PIB)
- Context: Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Ministry of Finance hosted a learning session “Accelerating Responsible Digital Payments: Unlocking the Role of Fintech in Last Mile Service Delivery”, co-organized with the UN-based Better Than Cash Alliance.
- The purpose of the Better Than Cash Alliance is to accelerate the transition from cash to digital payments globally through excellence in advocacy, knowledge and services to members.
Better Than Cash Alliance
- Based at the United Nations, the Better Than Cash Alliance is a partnership of governments, companies and international organizations that accelerates the transition from cash to responsible digital payments to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.
- The Alliance has 75 members which are committed to digitizing payments in order to boost efficiency, transparency, women’s economic participation and financial inclusion, helping build economies that are digital and inclusive.
- Members do not want to abolish physical cash – it is legal tender – but rather want to provide responsible digital payment options that are “better than cash”.
- The Better Than Cash Alliance Secretariat is hosted by the United Nations Capital Development Fund.
Benefits of Digital Payments
- Cost savings through increased efficiency and speed;
- Transparency and security by increasing accountability and tracking, reducing corruption and theft as a result;
- Financial inclusion by advancing access to a range of financial services, including savings accounts and insurance products;
- Women’s economic participation by giving women more control over their financial lives and improving economic opportunities;
- Inclusive growth through building the institutions that form the bedrock of an economy.
6. Regulatory provisions for approval of vaccines in India (IE)
- Context: Three vaccine developers have now made applications to the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), India’s drug regulator, seeking emergency use approval for their candidate Covid-19 vaccines which are still under trials.
- None of these has yet generated data about the effectiveness of their vaccine from phase-III trials conducted in India, which is a mandatory requirement in the normal process of approval.
What are the regulatory provisions for approval of vaccines in India?
- Clinical trials of new drugs and vaccines, and their approvals, are governed by the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules, 2019.
- These Rules do not use the term “emergency use authorisation”.
- However, that does not mean that the Indian regulatory system does not have provisions for “special situations” like the current one.
- The 2019 rules provide for “accelerated approval process” in several situations that would include the one like the current pandemic.
- In such situations, there is a provision for granting approval to a drug that is still in clinical trials, “provided there is a prima facie case of the product being of meaningful therapeutic benefit”.
- “Accelerated approval may also be granted to a new drug if it is intended for the treatment of a serious, or life-threatening condition, or disease of special relevance to the country, and addresses unmet medical needs,” one of the relevant provisions of the Rules says.
- The definition of new drug in the 2019 Rules includes a vaccine.
- Further, it makes it clear that a new drug, or a vaccine, can be considered for approval if “remarkable” effectiveness is reported even from phase-II trials.
- The approval granted to drugs or vaccines that are still in clinical trials is temporary, and valid only for one year.
What about vaccines that have done well in trials outside the country?
- The 2019 Rules do not say anything specific about whether data from a trial conducted in another country can be considered while assessing an application for accelerated approval to a drug or vaccine to be used in India.
7. Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) (PIB)
- Context: The Union Cabinet has given its approval for provision of a Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) Scheme for providing Mobile Coverage in Arunachal Pradesh and two Districts of Assam under the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP) for North Eastern Region (NER).
Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)
- The entire project is being funded by Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which was set up for improving telecom services in rural and remote areas of the country.
- It is a non-lapsable fund.
- Credits to this fund require parliamentary approval.
- It has been created under Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of communication and information technology.
- The resources for meeting the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would be raised through a ‘Universal Access Levy (UAL)’, which would be a percentage of the revenue earned by the operators under various licenses.
- The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 gives statutory status to the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
- The Fund has a provision for allocation under gender budgeting, for providing services to women, like broadband access to women SHGs.
Objective of USOF
- Economic: Network extension & stimulate uptake of the ICT services
- Social: Mainstreaming the underserved & un-served areas/groups by bridging the Access Gap.
- Political: To enable citizens exercise their political rights in an informed way and
- Constitutional: Equitable distribution of the fruits of the telecom/digital revolution and fair allocation of national resource (pooled USO levy) via targeted subsidies.
C) International Relations
8. Iran says ready to return to nuclear deal (TH)
- Iran said it is ready to return to full compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers as soon as the other parties honour their commitments.
- The agreement between Iran and major powers has teetered on the brink of collapse since outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of it in 2018 and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.
- US President-elect Joe Biden has expressed readiness to return to the agreement.
- “Just as soon as the 5+1 or 4+1 resume all of their commitments, we will resume all of ours,” Iranian President said.
- He was referring to the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany with whom Iran reached the nuclear deal.
- Note: This article was covered in detail in 21st Nov file.
D) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
9. SC seeks A-G’s inputs in Maratha quota case (TH)
- Context: A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, examining the Maratha quota law, sought the assistance of Attorney- General (A-G) to decide whether a State legislature can specify a particular community as “socially and educationally backward” for granting reservation benefits in education and jobs.
- The Bench will examine if the Maharashtra legislature had violated the Constitution (One Hundred Second Amendment) Act of 2018 to provide the Maratha community reservation.
- The Constitution Amendment Act introduced Articles 338B and 342A in the Constitution.
- Article 338B deals with the newly established National Commission for Backward Classes.
- Article 342A empowers the President to specify the socially and educationally backward communities in a State. It says that it is for Parliament to include a community in the Central List for socially and backward classes for the grant of reservation benefits.
- However, the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018 has declared the Marathas as socially and educationally backward.
Attorney General of India
- The Constitution (Article 76) has provided for the office of the Attorney General for India.
- He is the highest law officer in the country.
Appointment and Term
- The Attorney General (AG) is appointed by the president.
- He must be a person who is qualified to be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court.
- In other words, he must be a citizen of India and he must have been a judge of some high court for five years or an advocate of some high court for ten years or an eminent jurist, in the opinion of the president.
- The term of office of the AG is not fixed by the Constitution.
- Further, the Constitution does not contain the procedure and grounds for his removal.
- He holds office during the pleasure of the president.
- This means that he may be removed by the president at any time.
- He may also quit his office by submitting his resignation to the president.
- Conventionally, he resigns when the government (council of ministers) resigns or is replaced, as he is appointed on its advice.
- The remuneration of the AG is not fixed by the Constitution.
- He receives such remuneration as the president may determine.
Duties and functions
- As the chief law officer of the Government of India, the duties of the AG include the following:
- 1. To give advice to the Government of India upon such legal matters, which are referred to him by the president.
- 2. To perform such other duties of a legal character that are assigned to him by the president.
- 3. To discharge the functions conferred on him by the Constitution or any other law.
- The president has assigned the following duties to the AG:
- 1. To appear on behalf of the Government of India in all cases in the Supreme Court in which the Government of India is concerned.
- 2. To represent the Government of India in any reference made by the president to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution.
- 3. To appear (when required by the Government of India) in any high court in any case in which the Government of India is concerned.
Rights and limitations
- In the performance of his official duties, the Attorney General has the right of audience in all courts in the territory of India.
- Further, he has the right to speak and to take part in the proceedings of both the Houses of Parliament or their joint sitting and any committee of the Parliament of which he may be named a member, but without a right to vote.
- He enjoys all the privileges and immunities that are available to a member of Parliament.
- Following limitations are placed on the Attorney General in order to avoid any complication and conflict of duty:
- 1. He should not advise or hold a brief against the Government of India.
- 2. He should not advise or hold a brief in cases in which he is called upon to advise or appear for the Government of India.
- 3. He should not defend accused persons in criminal prosecutions without the permission of the Government of India.
- 4. He should not accept appointment as a director in any company or corporation without the permission of the Government of India.
- 5. He should not advise any ministry or department of Government of India or any statutory organization or any public sector undertaking unless the proposal or a reference in this regard is received through the Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Legal Affairs.
- However, the Attorney General is not a fulltime counsel for the Government.
- He does not fall in the category of government servants.
- Further, he is not debarred from private legal practice.
- The AG is not a member of the Central cabinet. There is a separate law minister in the Central cabinet to look after legal matters at the government level.
Solicitor General of India
- In addition to the AG, there are other law officers of the Government of India. They are the solicitor general of India and additional solicitor general of India.
- They assist the AG in the fulfilment of his official responsibilities.
- It should be noted here that only the office of the AG is created by the Constitution.
- In other words, Article 76 does not mention about the solicitor general and additional solicitor general.
E) Agriculture, Geography, Environment and Biodiversity
10. KLI Project (TH)
- Context: The Union Cabinet has given its approval for Provision of Submarine Optical Fibre Cable Connectivity between Mainland (Kochi) and Lakshadweep Islands (KLI Project).
- Presently only medium of providing telecom connectivity to Lakshadweep is through satellites, but the bandwidth available is limited to 1 Gbps.
- Lack of bandwidth is a major constraint in providing data services, which is a pre-requisite for providing e-governance, e-education, e-banking etc. for inclusive growth of society.
- The name Lakshadweep in Malayalam and Sanskrit means ‘a hundred thousand islands’.
- India’s smallest Union Territory Lakshadweep is an archipelago consisting of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq km.
- It is a uni-district Union Territory and comprises of atolls, reefs, five submerged banks and ten inhabited islands.
- The Islands of this archipelago also have storm beaches consisting of unconsolidated pebbles and boulders on its eastern side.
- The capital is Kavaratti and it is also the principal town of the UT.
- The entry to Lakshadweep islands is restricted. One requires an entry permit issued by Lakshadweep Administration to visit these islands.
- These islands are located at a distance of 280 km-480 km off the Kerala coast.
- The entire island group is built of coral deposits.
- Minicoy is the largest island with an area of 4.8 sq. km.
- The entire group of islands is broadly divided by the Ten degree channel, north of which is the Amini Island and to the south of the Canannore Island.
- Nine degree channel separates Minicoy Island from rest of the group of Islands.
F) Art, Culture and History
11. Cattle, buffalo meat residue found in Indus Valley vessels (TH)
- A new study has found the presence of animal products, including cattle and buffalo meat, in ceramic vessels dating back about 4,600 years at seven Indus Valley Civilisation sites in present-day Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
- The study analysed the lipid residue in pottery found at the ancient sites.
- The analysis of lipid residues involved extraction and identification of the fats and oils that were absorbed in the vessels.
- Lipids are relatively less prone to degradation and have been discovered in pottery from archaeological contexts around the world.
- About 50-60% of domestic animal bones found at Indus Valley sites come from cattle/buffalo, the study said.
- The high proportions of cattle bones may suggest a cultural preference for beef consumption across Indus populations, supplemented by the consumption of mutton/lamb.
G) Economic Developments: India and World
12. Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) v/s Office of the Economic Adviser (OEA) (TH)
- Context: Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian expects discretionary consumption to bounce back in 2021, along with spending on sectors affected by social distancing norms, given the promise of COVID-19 vaccines bringing the pandemic under control.
- Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) is a post under Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.
- Economic Survey of India preceding the Union Budget every year is released by Chief Economic Advisor.
- Note: Chief Economic Adviser and Office of the Economic Adviser (OEA) are different.
- Office of the Economic Adviser (OEA) is an attached office of the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
- The main functions of the Office of Economic Adviser include, inter alia, the following:
- Policy Functions
- Rendering advice relating to formulation of Industrial Policy, Foreign Trade Policy with respect to industrial sector in general with thrust on manufacturing, issues relating to bilateral and multilateral trade, as well as taxes and duties related to industry, including but not restricted to safeguard and anti-dumping duties.
- Analysis of trends of industrial production and growth.
- Statistical Functions
- Compiling and releasing monthly Wholesale Price Indices.
- Compiling and releasing monthly Index of Core Industries Production
- Developing other Indices on experimental basis, e.g. select business service price indices.
H) Clever Picks (Miscellaneous)
13. Submarine Day (PIB)
- The Indian Navy celebrated Submarine Day on December 8 when the Indian Naval Ensign was unfurled on INS Kalvari, the first submarine to be inducted in the Indian Navy, at Riga in Latvia, the erstwhile USSR, in 1967.
- Kalvari is the Malayalam name for Tiger Shark, a predator in the Indian Ocean.
- The Kalvari was decommissioned in 1996 after 29 years of service.
- INS Kalvari was a diesel-electric submarine of the Foxtrot Class from the erstwhile USSR.
14. Right to Privacy and Quarantine posters (TH)
- The Supreme Court clarified that State governments and Union Territories are not required to paste posters outside the homes of quarantined COVID-19 patients.
- The apex court, however, added that such posters can be affixed only in specific cases when the competent authority issues specific directions under the Disaster Management Act.
- The order came on a petition filed by an advocate who has contended that such posters entail the violation of the fundamental right to privacy (guaranteed by the Article 21 of the Constitution) of patients.