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31 December, 2019

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GS-II :
NITI Aayog’s SDG Index 2019

Syllabus subtopic: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.

Prelims and Mains focus: About NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index and performance of various states

News: Kerala tops the States in progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while Bihar is at the bottom of the NITI Aayog’s SDG Index, released on Monday.

Background

The SDG India Index was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation (MoSPI), Global Green Growth Institute and United Nations in India.

  • The index comprises a composite score for each State and Union Territory based on their aggregate performance across 13 of the 17 SDGs. The score, ranging between 0 and 100, denotes the average performance of the State/UT towards achieving the 13 SDGs and their respective targets.
  • The aim of the index is to instill competition among States to improve their performance across social indices as the States’ progress will determine India’s progress towards achieving the set goals by 2030. Using the index, States will be monitored on a real-time basis.

What are Sustainable development Goals (SDGs)

  • The SDGs are a set of 17 broad­based global goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, and intended to be achieved by 2030.
  • With one­sixth of the world’s population, India is key to the achievement of the goals. The UN has developed 232 indicators to measure compliance by member nations. The NITI Aayog has adapted the monitoring approach to the Indian context, with 100 indicators of its own for the Index.
  • Only 40% of these indicators were used for last year’s baseline index and hence, the two indices are not directly comparable. However, it is still interesting to note that Kerala has retained its top slot, while Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim have shown the most improvement.

Performance of other states

  • Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim have joined the four southern States among the front­runners, which scored over 65 points out of a possible 100.
  • Ending hunger and achieving gender equality are the areas where most States fall far short, with the all­India scores at a dismal 35 and 42 points respectively.
  • On the other hand, the NITI Aayog has given India an overall score of 60 points, driven mostly by progress in energy and sanitation (88); peace, justice and strong institutions(72); and affordable and clean energy (70).

SDG-wise analysis

  • The second SDG — zero hunger — shows sharp divergence in the performance of States, with little middle ground. Kerala, Goa and parts of the north­east, including Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, have scored above 65, with Goa at 75 points.
  • However, 22 of the States and Union Territories have scored below 50, with the central Indian States of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh scoring below 30, showing high levels of hunger and malnutrition.

  • On the fifth SDG — gender equality — almost all States fare poorly. Only Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala have managed to cross 50 points. The indicators considered include crimes against women, eradicating sex selection and discrimination against daughters, and access to reproductive health schemes, as well as indicators showing women’s economic and political empowerment and leadership.
  • A sex ratio of 896 females per 1000 males, a 17.5% female labour participation rate, and the fact that one in three women experience spousal violence all contribute to a low score countrywide.

  • The Swachh Bharat Mission has contributed largely to the high scores on the sixth SDG — clean water and sanitation — although that was helped by the fact that four out of seven indicators dealt with toilets and sanitation, while only one indicator was related to safe and affordable drinking water.
  • All States and Union Territories except for Delhi have scored above 65, with the national capital scoring poorly on the percentage of urban households with individual household toilets (less than 1%) and, oddly, providing no data on districts verified to be open defecation free.

Source: The Hindu

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GS-II :
Ujjwala scheme reduced reliance on forest wood

Syllabus subtopic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections

Prelims and Mains focus: about the Ujjwala scheme and its significance; key findings of the ISFR, 2019

News: The Union Environment Ministry has credited the Ujjwala scheme, which provides free cooking gas to extremely poor families, with ‘possibly’ reducing the demand for fuelwood.

Context: The India State of Forest Report, 2019, — that biannually also assesses the tree cover — also surveyed 1,110 villages, which are on the fringes of forests, to assess how much fuelwood, fodder, small timber and bamboo villagers use.

The use of these products— according to the Forest Survey of India — was a major source of “impairment to forest productivity” but wasn’t adequately assessed.

What did the report find?

  • In their assessment of villages in 31 States and Union Territories, nearly 8,52,90,000 tonnes of fuel-wood, 105,30,39,000 tonnes off fodder, 584,8204 cubic metres of small timber and 18,34,000 tonnes of bamboo were collected annually by those living in the forest fringes.
  • The maximum fuelwood was removed in Maharashtra — 95,39000 tonnes — followed by Odisha and Rajasthan.
  • The highest removal, per person, was in Nagaland followed by Himachal Pradesh and Tripura.

About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY):

  • It aims to provide LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) connections to poor households.

  • Who is eligible? Under the scheme, an adult woman member of a below poverty line family identified through the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is given a deposit-free LPG connection with financial assistance of Rs 1,600 per connection by the Centre.

  • Identification of households: Eligible households will be identified in consultation with state governments and Union territories. The scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Key objectives of the scheme are:

  • Empowering women and protecting their health.
  • Reducing the serious health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuel.
  • Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel.
  • Preventing young children from significant number of acute respiratory illnesses caused due to indoor air pollution by burning the fossil fuel.

Source: The Hindu

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GS-II :
Carbon tax waiver for coal mooted

Syllabus subtopic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Prelims and Mains focus: about the significance of the govt.’s move to waive carbon tax on coal

News: Prime Minister’s office (PMO) has proposed waiving a tax on coal to help finance pollution­curbing equipment, according to documents, but the move would also make coal more competitive in price with solar and wind energy.

  • The PMO has proposed waiving the carbon tax of R.400 per tonne that was levied on the production and import of coal.

Background

  • Despite struggling with some of the world’s worst air pollution levels, India has already pushed back a deadline to cut emission levels to up to 2022.
  • Over half of India’s coal-fired plants are already set to miss a phased deadline starting December 2019 to cut emissions of sulphur oxides, which have been proven to contribute to lung disease.

Significance of the move

  • The savings would improve the financial health of utilities and distribution companies, and help power producers to install pollution curbing equipment.
  • The proposal is a big win for India’s coal industry, which has lobbied for government help, citing high debt levels and burgeoning payment dues from government­owned power distribution companies.

COAL VS RENEWABLES

  • The proposal comes at a time when India is set to open up coal mining to global mining companies for the first time. An implementation of the proposal would provide a fillip to state-run Coal India, whose stock has lost a fifth of its value over the last 12 months. Thermal power companies, in addition to emitting greenhouse gases, account for 80 percent of all industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulfur and nitrous oxides in India.

  • The average rate at which coal-fired power is sold to distribution companies stands at about 3.50 rupees per unit, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided to the power ministry by many Indian utilities in October. That compares with an average cost of 2.50 rupees to 3.00 rupees for renewable energy projects. The current carbon tax on coal contributes to 0.25 rupees per unit, according to industry estimates.

  • If implemented, the move would reduce the price gap between coal-fired power and renewable, and potentially impact Modi's plan to increase adoption of green energy. Cutting taxes on coal would impact growth of renewable energy as well as the transition away from coal.

Source: The Hindu

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GS-II :
NITI Aayog set to take up financing exercise with ‘historically backward’ states

Syllabus subtopic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Prelims and Mains focus: About the SDG India Index report 2019 and its significance; NITI Aayog and its composition

News: Government think tank NITI Aayog plans to conduct a financing exercise with states that have been “historically backward” in development to ensure that India can achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on time.

  • India will be presenting its second Voluntary National Review during the United Nations’ High Level Political Forum in July 2020.

Context: “There is consensus on all levels that unless these States make significant progress, India will find it challenging to achieve its SDG targets on time. NITI Aayog has started working closely with these States, enabling them in establishing SDG monitoring systems and supporting them in forging partnerships for building institutions, capacity, knowledge and convergence,” stated the body in its SDG India Index 2019 report.

  • Bihar, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Assam were among the worst performers in terms of their progress towards achieving these SDGs, shows the report.

Efforts made by NITI Aayog

  • NITI Aayog has already begun estimating the financial cost of achieving “key” SDGs in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund.
  • As the next step of the collaboration, SDG financing exercise with select states is planned. Special attention is being given to the adoption, implementation, monitoring and financing of SDGs in states, which have been historically backward in development.
  • A comprehensive capacity building programme for the States, UTs, and local governments is being designed in partnership with the UN system. The training modules will extensively cover developing SDG monitoring framework, identifying and designing indicators, localisation, and dashboards.

Findings of SDG India Index report, 2019

  • The SDG India Index 2019 report, which evaluates the progress of states and Union Territories on social, economic and environmental parameters, found that India has managed to improve its average score on the back of improvements in five goals.

  • However, it has stated that two goals — nutrition and gender — continued to be problem areas and demand special attention. In nutrition, food wastage and loss due to inefficient supply chain management remain a “major” concern, according to the report.

  • While significant levels of food losses occur upstream, at harvest and during post-harvest handling, a considerable quantity of food is lost or wasted during the distribution and consumption stages. Such food could be salvaged by timely withdrawing it from the distribution network, aggregating it and then redirecting it to the people in need.

  • Challenges remain for wider adoption of climate-adaptive sustainable agriculture practices, new technology as well as agricultural development plans involving large swathes of land by small farmers, who often lack assets and resources and constitute more than 82 per cent of all farmers.

  • Crimes against women stood at around 3.60 lakh in 2017, with the crime rate increasing to 57.9 then, as against 56.6 in 2014; “several” legislations have been enacted towards reforms to ensure gender rights and equality.

  • Several challenges still remain in achieving gender equality, including an “acute” data gap for gender equality in several sectors, especially for transgender people, stated the report. Other issues include declining female labour force participation, which currently stands at 17.5 per cent, and is characterised by aspects like a gender wage gap across sectors as high as 50-75 per cent.

  • The agriculture sector still has the “largest” share of women, and a “large” proportion of the population involved in informal employment also consists of women “with little or no social protection”.

  • There is also inequality in women’s access to and ownership of land. In rural India, while 75 per cent of rural women workers are engaged in agriculture, women’s operational landholding is only 13.96 per cent. The absence of land ownership limits their access to inputs, seeds, fertilisers, credit and agricultural extension services.

About NITI Aayog

  • The Government, in January 2015, replaced Planning Commission with NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India).

  • Aim: to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and to enhance cooperative federalism by fostering the involvement of State Governments of India in the economic policy-making process using a bottom-up approach.

Composition of NITI Aayog:

  • Chairperson: Prime Minister of India as the Chairperson.
  • Governing Council comprising the Chief Ministers of all the States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories.
  • Regional Councils will be formed to address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one state or a region. These will be formed for a specified tenure.
  • The Regional Councils will be convened by the Prime Minister and will comprise of the Chief Ministers of States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories in the region. These will be chaired by the Chairperson of the NITI Aayog or his nominee.
  • Experts, specialists and practitioners with relevant domain knowledge as special invitees nominated by the Prime Minister.

Source: Indian Express

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GS-III : Economic Issues Budget
A fiscal stimulus in budget has to get balance right

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the ongoing economic slowdown what should the next year’s budget bring to contain it

News: Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Union budget in four weeks. The expectation, including in RBI’s monetary policy committee, is that the budget will roll out a fiscal stimulus to counter the growth slowdown.

Will a fiscal stimulus boost GDP growth?

Stimulus can be given either by way of changes in taxes or higher expenditure. India’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth fell to a low of 6.1% in the second quarter of this fiscal. This was the lowest growth in the new 2011-12 base GDP series. GDP growth would have been lower still, but the latest official estimates show that it received a boost from public and defence services that grew 11.6% in the second quarter as compared to 8.6% a year ago. Thus, government expenditure can boost growth in the interim. However, a prolonged stimulus must be avoided as it will stoke inflation and lead to stagflation.

Is there fiscal space for a strong stimulus?

No. The government’s capacity is constrained by low tax revenues so far. Data from the Controller General of Accounts shows that growth in gross taxes during the first seven months of FY20 was the lowest since FY10. Already, the Centre has sacrificed revenues by cutting corporate tax to 22%. The only silver lining is the non-tax revenues growth of 75.5% during April-October. A slippage to 4.75% of GDP in the Centre’s fiscal deficit is estimated by ICRA and EY even in the absence of a stimulus. A temporary deviation from FRBM targets is possible in the current situation. However, there are limits even to that.

Will increased spending on public infrastructure help?

No. Growth needs a boost urgently. Spending on long-gestation projects in highways and railways will not help. As the demand contraction originated in the unorganized sector, stimulus should be given to it. Expenditure under PM-KISAN and NREGA can boost rural incomes and consumption by putting money in the hands of those who tend to consume more.

What about income tax cuts as stimulus?

No. Income tax cuts will benefit a small section of people, as only 5% of India’s population pays income tax. February’s interim budget had given an income tax rebate to those earning up to Rs.5 lakh that left nearly Rs.1,000 a month more in their wallets. Capital exemption on sale of one house was extended to two. Standard deduction for the salaried was raised from Rs.40,000 to Rs.50,000 and tax deduction on interest from savings in bank accounts was increased from Rs.10,000 to Rs.50,000. Still the slowdown deepened.

What should the government do then?

When economic growth slows down, so do tax collections. But if expenditure levels are maintained, the fiscal deficit goes up, as it is expressed as a percentage of GDP. The lower denominator—lower nominal GDP growth—widens the fiscal deficit. Keeping expenditures unchanged, or automatic stabilizers, can be used to stimulate growth, as was done in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008.

Source: mint

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GS-III : Miscellaneous
AFSPA extended in Nagaland for six months

Syllabus subtopic: Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism

Prelims and Mains focus: AFSPA- features, draconian provisions, misuses and need for review.

News: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has declared the entire State of Nagaland as a “disturbed area” for six more months, under the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) which empowers security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without prior notice.

Background

  • The AFSPA has been in force in the Northeast since 1958. Nagaland got statehood in 1963.
  • Presently, AFSPA, 1958, is operational in the entire States of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (except Imphal Municipal area), three districts namely Tirap, Changlang and Longding of Arunachal Pradesh and the areas falling within the jurisdiction of the eight police stations in the districts of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Assam.

About the notification issued

  • The notification declaring Manipur and Assam as “Disturbed Areas’ has been issued by the State governments.
  • For Nagaland, the notification is issued by the MHA. The Act has not been withdrawn despite a framework agreement being signed on August 3, 2015 between Naga insurgent group NSCN­IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and government interlocutor R.N. Ravi in the presence of PM Modi.

What does the AFSPA mean?

  • In simple terms, AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law. If reasonable suspicion exists, the army can also arrest a person without a warrant; enter or search premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms.

  • Any person arrested or taken into custody may be handed over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station along with a report detailing the circumstances that led to the arrest.

What is a “disturbed area” and who has the power to declare it?

  • A disturbed area is one which is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA. An area can be disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.

  • The Central Government, or the Governor of the State or administrator of the Union Territory can declare the whole or part of the State or Union Territory as a disturbed area. A suitable notification would have to be made in the Official Gazette. As per Section 3, it can be invoked in places where “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”.

What’s the origin of AFSPA?

The Act came into force in the context of increasing violence in the Northeastern States decades ago, which the State governments found difficult to control. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and it was approved by the President on September 11, 1958. It became known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958.

What are the special powers given to army officials?

  • Under Section 4 of the AFSPA, an authorised officer in a disturbed area enjoys certain powers. The authorised officer has the power to open fire at any individual even if it results in death if the individual violates laws which prohibit (a) the assembly of five or more persons; or (b) carrying of weapons. However, the officer has to give a warning before opening fire.

  • The authorised officer has also been given the power to (a) arrest without a warrant; and (b) seize and search without any warrant any premise in order to make an arrest or recovery of hostages, arms and ammunitions.

  • Individuals who have been taken into custody have to be handed over to the nearest police station as soon as possible.

  • Prosecution of an authorised officer requires prior permission of the Central government.

What has been the role of the judiciary?

  • There were questions about the constitutionality of AFSPA, given that law and order is a state subject. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA in a 1998 judgement (Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India).

  • In this judgement, the Supreme Court arrived at certain conclusions including (a) a suo-motu declaration can be made by the Central government, however, it is desirable that the state government should be consulted by the central government before making the declaration; (b) AFSPA does not confer arbitrary powers to declare an area as a ‘disturbed area’; (c) the declaration has to be for a limited duration and there should be a periodic review of the declaration 6 months have expired; (d) while exercising the powers conferred upon him by AFSPA, the authorised officer should use minimal force necessary for effective action, and (e) the authorised officer should strictly follow the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ issued by the army.

Has there been any review of the Act?

  • On November 19, 2004, the Central government appointed a five member committee headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy to review the provisions of the act in the north eastern states.

  • The committee submitted its report in 2005, which included the following recommendations: (a) AFSPA should be repealed and appropriate provisions should be inserted in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; (b) The Unlawful Activities Act should be modified to clearly specify the powers of the armed forces and paramilitary forces and (c) grievance cells should be set up in each district where the armed forces are deployed.

  • The 5th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on public order has also recommended the repeal of the AFSPA.

  • These recommendations have not been implemented

Source: The Hindu

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GS-III :
India State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2019

Syllabus subtopic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Prelims and Mains focus: about the key findings of ISFR-2019 and its significance; efforts taken by the govt. to improve forest cover in the country

News: The forest cover in the country increased by 3,976 square kilometres (sqkm) but with the sharpest declines in the northeastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram, according to the 2019 edition of the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) that was made public on Monday.

About the ISFR

  • The ISFR, a biennial exercise, assesses the forest and tree cover, bamboo resources, carbon stock and forest fires.

Key findings of the report

  • At 7,12,249 sqkm, the forest cover constituted 21.67% of the nation’s geographical area or 0.12% more than last year.
  • The top three States showing an increase in forest cover are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
  • Tree cover, defined as patches of trees less than 1 hectare and occurring outside the recorded forest area, grew by 1,212 sqkm. Tree and forest cover together made up 25.56% of India’s area. In the last assessment it was 24.39%.

Status of forest cover in the Northeast States

  • The States had a much higher proportion of forest than most States — Mizoram (85.4%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.63%) and Nagaland (75%) — and the declines in forest were still small.

Reason for decline/rise in tree cover

  • The decline in tree cover inside forests was due to tribal populations getting “land titles” (patta) and the rise in trees outside the forest area as due to an increase in tree plantation and afforestation activities.

What does the report say on the quality of tree cover?

  • The report, however, shows that the quality of this forest — in terms of the canopy density of the trees comprising forest patches — is wavering.

  • While 1,755 sqkm of ‘moderately dense forest’ (MDF) became ‘Very dense forest (VDF), 2,782 sqkm of MDF regressed into lower quality ‘open forest (OF),Scrub forest’ or ‘Non forest.

  • The forest cover within the Recorded Forest Area, or that which has been officially classified by States or the Centre as ‘forest,’ showed a 330 sqkm decrease, but ‘forest’ outside such recorded area increased by 4,306 sqkm.

  • Tree outside forest was found to comprise nearly 29.38 million hectares, which was 36.4% of the total tree and forest cover in the country. Maharashtra had the largest extent of such tree outside forest.

  • The nation’s tree and forest cover has largely hovered from 21­-25% and is short of the National Forest Policy, 1988, which envisages 33% to be under such cover.

Source: The Hindu

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