The HINDU Notes – 20th February
📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 20 February
💡 Rail Bhavan, North Block spar after Budget merger
- Less than a fortnight after the historic merger of the Rail Budget with the Union Budget, the Railways and Finance Ministries are not seeing eye-to-eye on some critical issues, including finances.
- The Finance Ministry, which has taken charge of presenting the annual accounts for the Indian Railways, has asked the Railways Ministry to hereafter remit the annual dividends it receives from the 14 central public sector units (CPSUs) under its purview.
- Rail Bhavan mandarins are not amused as saving on dividend payments to the MoF was one of the biggest arguments made in favour of scrapping the separate Rail Budget.
- The Railways ministry has shot back arguing that giving away the dividends from the CPSUs – estimated at about Rs.850 crore for 2017-18 – would hit its earnings.
- The Finance Ministry told the Railways Ministry that since the ‘capital-at- charge’ of the Railways – on which annual dividend was paid by the Railways – would be wiped-off post the Budget merger, the investment made in the Railways related PSUs would be treated as having come from the Central government’s accounts.
- “In view of this, the Ministry of Railways is requested to remit the dividends received from its CPSUs to General Revenues,” the Finance Ministry said in its letter of January 9.
- The Indian Railways will no longer be required to pay annual dividend of about Rs. 9,000 crore to the Finance Ministry for the capital invested in it following the Budget merger.
- “The government approved merger of Railway Budget with General Budget on the premise that, besides maintaining its distinct entity as a departmental commercial undertaking as at present, Railways would also retain its functional and financial autonomy,” the Railways Ministry said in its reply to the Finance Ministry on February 13.
- “The existing financial arrangements with regard to Railway revenue and expenditure has thus to continue even after merger.
- The Railways Ministry said the dividend received by the Indian Railways from its CPSUs is not part of the ‘capital- at-charge’. (Capital-at-charge is the Centre’s investment in the Indian Railways — treated as loan in perpetuity.)
- It went on to point out that since the dividends from CPSUs is a part of the Railways’ overall traffic earning projections for 2017-18, remitting the dividend to the Finance Ministry “would add to shortfall in the Railway earnings.”
- “As Ministry of Finance, in the larger scenario, is responsible for meeting any gap in Railway resources, the present arrangement of retaining the dividend for Railway PSUs in the Railway earnings may continue,” the Railways Ministry said.
- Earlier, the Railway Board members were surprised at Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget announcement listing three Railways PSUs — IRCTC, Indian Railway Finance Corporation and IRCON — on the stock markets.
💡 Why Earth’s inner core doesn’t melt
- Scientists have discovered why the crystallised iron core of the Earth remains solid, despite being hotter than the surface of the Sun.
- Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found that on the edge of the inner core, pieces of crystals’ structure continuously melt and diffuse only to be reinserted due to high pressure like “shuffling deck of cards.”
- This energy distribution cycle keeps the crystal stable and the core solid.
💡 An ‘origami’ shield to protect law officers
- Scientists have created an origami-inspired, lightweight bulletproof shield that can protect law enforcement officials from gunfire.
- The new barrier can be folded compactly when not in use, making it easier to transport and deploy. When expanded — which takes only five seconds — it can provide cover for officers and stop bullets from several types of handguns.
Protects from all sides:
- The barrier researchers designed is made of 12 layers of bulletproof Kevlar and weighs only 24 kg. The barrier uses a Yoshimura origami crease pattern to expand around an officer, providing protection on the side in addition to protecting them in the front. In testing, the barrier successfully stopped bullets from 9 mm, 0.357 Magnum and 0.44 Magnum pistols.
- It goes from a very compact state that you can carry around in the trunk of a car to something you can take with you, open up and take cover behind to be safe from bullets.
- In addition to protecting police officers, researchers believe the barrier could be used to protect children in a school or a wounded person in an emergency situation. Although the ballistic barrier is now just in prototype form and not currently in use by any law enforcement agencies.
💡 India not in race with China in Africa outreach: Ansari
- Vice-President Hamid Ansari differentiated between the relationship India and China have with Africa, en route Rwanda and Uganda on a four-day visit.
- Speaking at a press conference on board the special aircraft, he stressed that a combined 12 visits to the continent by President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he, as part of India’s outreach to strengthen relations between India and the African states since 2015 (following the India-Africa Summit in New Delhi), showed stylistically different ties from those of other countries, including China.
- “We are not in competition with China or anybody else as far as our development cooperation with foreign countries especially Africa is concerned. They have their own style of work, they have their own capacities, which are different from us. We have left it to our development partners in Africa, and they decide where they want to use Indian knowledge and expertise
- Once they do that, then we transform it into concrete projects of assistance. Of course, we have financial constraints, that goes without saying, but, the experience so far has been satisfactory,” he said.
💡 Rebels kill Indian working with infrastructure firm in South Sudan
- An Indian national, Syed Farooq Basha, was shot dead by rebel fighters in South Sudan on 19 February 2017 , diplomatic sources have confirmed. He was involved in drilling wells for water in the region.
- The incident occurred some 900 km from the South Sudan capital of Juba. This is the first casualty of an Indian in the civil war, which began last year.
- Disputed region Abyei is an energy-rich region between Sudan and South Sudan which remains disputed.
- India had launched “Operation Sankat Mochan” under the leadership of Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh, in July 2016 to evacuate nationals caught in the escalating civil war.
- However only 154 persons chose to be evacuated; hundreds elected to remain as the civil war paused for a while.
💡 Decomission Farakka barrage: Bihar govt.
- The Nitish Kumar government has held the Farakka barrage in West Bengal responsible for heavy floods in Bihar and asked the Centre to decommission it to de-silt the heavily loaded upstream of the Ganga river.
- The State has made the recommendation, observing that the dam is the “genesis of severe” flood consequences and responsible for “alarming” silt increase in the river’s upstream.
- The Nitish dispensation has made the demand before an experts’ committee formed by the Centre to work out guidelines for desilting the Ganga following last year’s devastating floods, sources told.
- Such a move will further help in restoration of deltas and its eco-system which is also getting adversely affected due to this barrage.
- To buttress its point, the State government has referred to Kolkata Port Trust’s data, which suggests that silt dredging at the port has increased from 6.40 million cubic metres annually from pre-Farakka days to four times, i.e. at 21.88 MCM annually, during 2003.
- “So the barrage is of no help…functioning of the barrage is itself giving rise to consequences of flooding,” the State has said in its submission.
- Among other, the government has blamed the barrage also for constricting “severely” movement of habitations and normal cycle of aquatic species.
- The Farakka barrage was constructed in the early 1960s with the main purpose of helping flush out sediment deposition from the Kolkata Port, besides addressing drinking water requirement in West Bengal. The dam was made operational in 1975.
💡 Foreign funds surge under NDA rule
- Foreign donations to Indian NGOs have surged since the NDA government came to power.
- As per figures available with the Home Ministry, which regulates the flow of foreign funds to NGOs and associations in India, the 2015-16 fiscal saw a flow of Rs. 17,208 crore from foreign donors, the highest in five years.
- There were donations of Rs. 14,525 crore in 2014-15 and Rs. 13,092 crore in 2013-14. In 2012-13, the foreign donations received totalled Rs. 9,423 crore, and in 2011-12, Rs. 10,334 crore.
- There are 33,000 NGOs registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) that are required to file their annual returns with the Home Ministry, but only 19,000 received funds last year.
- Of the 16 major donors, at least 14 are Christian organisations, most of them based in the U.S.
- Last year, the Home Ministry put Colorado-based Christian NGO Compassion International on its “watchlist” as it was accused of funding Indian NGOs involved in religious conversions.
- The crackdown against the Compassion International, which also figures in the list of the largest foreign donors, led to a diplomatic standoff with the United States.
- Before it was put on the watchlist, the Compassion International had donated Rs. 292 crore.
- In 2015, the Home Ministry notified new rules, which required NGOs to give an undertaking that the acceptance of foreign funds is not likely to prejudicially affect the “sovereignty and integrity of India or impact friendly relations with foreign states and does not disrupt communal harmony”.
- Under the annual returns category, the NGOs were asked to give an undertaking that the foreign funds were utilised in such a way that it did not affect the “security, strategic, scientific or economic interest, public interest, freedom or fairness of election to any legislature or harmony between religious, social, racial, linguistic group, caste or communities.”
- The Home Ministry has cancelled the registration of over 10,000 NGOs in 2015 for not complying with the norms.
- The registration of Greenpeace International was cancelled on the premise that it compromised the country’s “economic security”.
💡 Govt. meets stent makers to ensure a steady supply
- The government has held a meeting with stent makers and importers to review its availability in market amid reports that an artificial scarcity is being created in the garb of withdrawing the device for price relabelling.
- There are reports of shortage of stents in hospitals after the government reduced their prices by up to 85%, capping rates of bare metal stents at Rs. 7,260 and drug-eluting ones at Rs. 29,600 on February 13.
- “The government held a meeting with all domestic stent manufacturers as well as all the importers and their associations. They have all agreed that the supplies would be maintained and no shortage will be allowed to develop. There is enough stock,” Pharma Secretary Jai Priye Prakash said.