National Recruitment Agency
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for creation of National Recruitment Agency (NRA), paving the way for a transformational reform in the recruitment process for central government jobs.
- At present, candidates seeking government jobs have to appear for separate examinations conducted by multiple recruiting agencies for various posts, for which similar eligibility conditions have prescribed.
- Candidates have to pay fee to multiple recruiting agencies and also have to travel long distances for appearing in various exams.
What is ‘National Recruitment Agency’?
- A multi-agency body called the National Recruitment Agency (NRA) will conduct a Common Eligibility Test (CET) to screen/shortlist candidates for the Group B and C (non-technical) posts.
- NRA will have representatives of Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Finance/Department of Financial Services, the SSC, RRB & IBPS.
- The hiring of Group-B (non-gazetted), Group-C (non-technical) and clerical posts in the government along with various equivalent recruitment in public sector banks will be done through CET. NRA will conduct preliminary examinations for all these recruitment.
- CET Score – The CET score of the candidate shall be valid for a period of three years from the date of declaration of the result. The best of the valid scores shall be deemed to be the current score of the candidate. There shall be no restriction on the number of attempts to be taken by a candidate to appear in the CET subject to the upper age limit. Relaxation in the upper age limit shall be given to candidates of SC/ST/OBC and other categories as per the extant policy of the Government.
- On an average, 2.5 crore to 3 crore candidates appear in each of these examinations. A common eligibility Test would enable these candidates to appear once and apply to any or all of these recruitment agencies for the higher level of examination. This would indeed be a boon to all the candidates.
- Access to examination centres – Examination Centres in every District of the country would greatly enhance access to the candidates located in far-flung areas. Special focus on creating examination infrastructure in the 117 Aspirational Districts would go a long way in affording access to candidates at a place nearer to where they reside.
- Relief to poor candidates – Presently, the candidates have to appear in multiple examinations conducted by multiple agencies. Apart from the examination fees, candidates have to incur additional expenses for travel, boarding, lodging and other such. A single examination would reduce the financial burden on candidates to a large extent.
- Benefit to women candidates – Women candidates especially from rural areas face constraints in appearing in multiple examinations as they have to arrange for transportation and places to stay in places that are far away. The location of test centres in every District would greatly benefit candidates from rural areas in general and women candidates in particular.
- Access to scores – Initially the scores would be used by the three major recruitment agencies. However, over a period of time it is expected that other recruitment agencies in the Central Government would adopt the same. Further, it would be open for other agencies in the public as well as private domain to adopt it if they so choose. Thus, in the long run, the CET score could be shared with other recruiting agencies in the Central Government, State Governments/Union Territories, Public Sector Undertaking and Private Sector. This would help such organizations in saving costs and time spent on recruitment.
- Shortening the recruitment cycle – A single eligibility test would significantly reduce the recruitment cycle. Some Departments have indicated their intention to do away with any second level test and go ahead with recruitment on the basis of CET scores, Physical Tests and Medical examination. This would greatly reduce the cycle and benefit a large section of youth.
- Medium of examination – Initially, the CET exam will be conducted in 12 languages that are in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India.
Liquidity in the Power Sector
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved a one-time relaxation to Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) for extending loans to Distribution Companies (DISCOMs) above limits of working capital cap of 25% of last year’s revenues, under the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY).
What is the need for loan extension?
- The outbreak of the global pandemic COVID-19 in the country and the consequent nationwide lockdown has exacerbated the liquidity problems for the power sector.
- Revenues of the power distribution companies have nosedived as people are unable to pay for the electricity consumed while power supplies, being an essential service, have been maintained. Energy consumption has decreased substantially.
- The liquidity of the power sector is not expected to improve in the short term, as economic activity and power demand will take some time to pick up. There is, thus, an immediate need to infuse liquidity in the power sector for continuation of power supply.
What is UDAY scheme?
- Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana aimed to provide financial and operational turnaround of power distribution companies and aimed at long term affordable and accessible 24×7 power supply to all.
- It had a target of making all DISCOMs profitable by 2018-19 through four initiatives such as improving operational efficiencies of DISCOMs, reduction of cost of power, reduction in interest cost of DISCOMs, enforcing financial discipline on DISCOMs through alignment with state finances.
- Under this programme, States had to take over 75% of DISCOM debt over two years i.e 50% of DISCOM debt shall be taken over in 2015-16 and 25% in 2016-17.
- States were to issue non-SLR including SDL bonds (state development loans) in the market or directly to the respective banks / financial institutions (FIs) holding the DISCOM debt to the appropriate extent.
- DISCOM debt not taken over by the state were to be converted by the banks / FIs into loans or bonds.
SYL Canal issue
Opposing the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal project and staking claim to Yamuna’s waters, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has warned the Centre that his state will burn if forced to go ahead with the project.
What is the SYL canal issue?
- At the time of reorganisation of Punjab in 1966, the issue of sharing of river waters between both the states emerged. Punjab refused to share waters of Ravi and Beas with Haryana stating it was against the riparian principle.
- Before the reorganisation, in 1955, out of 15.85 MAF of Ravi and Beas, the Centre had allocated 8 MAF to Rajasthan, 7.20 MAF to undivided Punjab, 0.65MAF to Jammu and Kashmir. Out of 7.20 MAF allocated, Punjab did not want to share any water with Haryana.
- In March 1976, when Punjab Reorganisation Act was implemented, the Centre notified fresh allocations, providing 3.5 MAF To Haryana. Later, in 1981, the water flowing down Beas and Ravi was revised and pegged at 17.17 MAF, out of which 4.22 MAF was allocated to Punjab, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, and 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan.
- Finally, to provide this allocated share of water to southern parts of Haryana, a canal linking the Sutlej with the Yamuna, cutting across the state, was planned. Finally, the construction of 214-km SYL was started in April 1982, 122 km of which was to run through Punjab and the rest through Haryana. Haryana has completed its side of the canal, but work in Punjab has been hanging fire for over three decades.
Why the issue has come up again?
- The issue is back on centre-stage after the Supreme Court directed the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana recently to negotiate and settle the SYL canal issue.
- Earlier, the meetings were taking place between the chief secretaries of both the states. The apex court asked for a meeting at the highest political level to be mediated by the Centre so that the states reach a consensus over the completion of SYL canal. Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat organised the meeting between both the chief ministers.
- The meeting remained inconclusive with Shekhawat expressing the view that the construction of the SYL canal should be completed. But Amarinder refused categorically. Now, another meeting will be held soon to take up the issue.
Why Punjab CM has warned of violence if the project is restarted?
- Amarinder’s warning is based on the bloody history around the SYL canal. The trouble-torn days of terrorism in Punjab started in the early 1980s when work on the SYL started. When Indira Gandhi launched the construction of SYL in Kapoori village in April 1982, Akalis launched an agitation in the form of Kapoori Morcha to protest against the proposed sharing of waters.
- In July 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then SAD chief Harchand Singh Longowal signed an accord for a new tribunal. A few days later, on August 20, 1985, Longowal was assassinated by militants. Five years later, a chief engineer ML Sekhri and a superintending engineer Avtar Singh Aulakh were killed by militants.
- Punjab feels it utilised its precious groundwater resources to grow crop for the entire country and should not be forced to share its waters as it faces desertification. It is feared that once the construction of the canal restarts, the youth may start feeling that the state has been discriminated against. The chief minister fears Pakistan and secessionist organisations like Sikh For Justice could exploit this and foment trouble in the state.
Demand for new tribunal –
- The state wants a tribunal seeking a fresh time-bound assessment of the water availability. The state has been saying that till date there has been no adjudication or scientific assessment of Punjab river waters.
- The BBMB had reported that availability of Ravi-Beas water had come down from the estimated 17.17 MAF in 1981 to 13.38 MAF in 2013. A fresh Tribunal could ascertain all this, Punjab believes.
Why is Punjab not willing to share water?
Punjab is facing severe water crisis due to over-exploitation of its underground aquifers for the wheat/paddy monocycle. According to the Central Underground Water Authority’s report, its underground water is over-exploited to meet the agriculture requirements in about 79 per cent area of the state. Out of 138 blocks, 109 are “over-exploited”, two are “critical” five are “semi-critical” and only 22 blocks are in “safe” category.
What is TrueNat testing?
- A chip-based test for coronavirus, the TrueNat testing involves three steps: elution (RNA extraction), screening and confirmatory test.
- RNA extraction takes 20-25 minutes in TrueNat testing. If the result is ‘negative’ after first screening, one sample can be tested in just one hour but if it is positive, then a confirmatory test has to be done, which can take upto two hours. But even then, it is much faster than RT-PCR.
- TrueNat is recommended only for emergency cases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI) patients, pregnant women, pre-surgery cases etc.
- Before the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) approved TrueNat machines for coronavirus testing, they were being used for tuberculosis testing. They are very handy and can also be taken to the field, if required.
How does it work?
The first step of elution takes 25-30 minutes. Then screening (e-gene), which identifies if the sample is positive or negative, takes 40-50 minutes. If it is positive, then it is put for confirmatory testing for SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) which can take upto an hour again. Including the time that goes into chip preparation, one is able to test maximum eight samples in 6-8 hours (single shift).
Military takeover in Mali
The military in Mali arrested the country’s President and Prime minister Tuesday (Boubou Cisse Tuesda) in a coup staged after weeks of destabilising protests over a disputed election, government corruption and a violent Islamist insurgency that has lasted for eight years.
The streets of Bamako, the capital, exploded with both jubilation and gunfire after President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his prime minister, Boubou Cissé, were detained along with other government officials. Around midnight, the president announced on state TV that he was resigning.
Foreign interests –
- France has remained deeply involved in the affairs of Mali, its former colony, decades after the country gained independence.
- For the French forces battling Islamists in the region, Mali is part of what some call France’s “Forever War” in the Sahel, the far-stretching land beneath the Sahara.
- The United States, too, has military advisers in Mali, and U.S. officials have a keen interest in a stable Malian government whose interests align with the West because instability in the region allows violent extremists to prey on populations and advance their objectives, and displaces millions of civilians.
- After a previous military coup in 2012, Islamist rebels, some with ties to al Qaeda, took advantage of the disarray to seize control of large areas of the country’s north, including the ancient city of Timbuktu.
- Under their brutal rule, Malians in those areas under jihadist control were forced to follow a strict religious code or risk severe punishment. Women were forced into marriage, and historical sites were demolished.
- The rebels lost control of their territories after French forces intervened to help the Malian military drive them out. But armed groups continue to terrorise civilians in the countryside, and the violence has metastasised across borders into the neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso and Niger.
- More than 10,000 West Africans have died, more than 1 million have fled their homes and military forces from West Africa and France have suffered many losses.
History of Mali –
- In the years following its independence from France in 1960, Mali was viewed as having achieved a good track record in democratic government.
- But Mali, once cited as a democratic role model in the region, has lurched from one crisis to another since the 2012 coup that overthrew President Amadou Touré a month before elections were to be held.
- The factors behind that coup, in part a consequence of the Arab Spring, underscore Mali’s position connecting North Africa with the rest of the continent. After the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, hundreds of heavily armed Malian rebels who had fought for the Libyan leader returned home and attacked northern towns, creating the chaos that preceded the military takeover.
The Supreme Court has endorsed the PM CARES Fund as a “public charitable trust” to which donors contribute voluntarily. It says that there is “no occasion” for the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to audit a public charitable trust independent of budgetary support or government money.
About PM-CARES –
On March 28, 2020, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, or the PM CARES Fund, was set up to tackle distress situations such as that posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In one-and- a-half months, the fund has raked in thousands of crores worth of donations including unlimited tax-free contributions from major corporates.
Who may contribute to the fund?
- The fund receives voluntary contributions from individuals and organisations and does not get any budgetary support.
- Donations have been made tax-exempt, and can be counted against a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations.
- It is also exempt from the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, and accepts foreign contributions.
- The Prime Minister chairs the fund in his official capacity, and can nominate three eminent persons in relevant fields to the Board of Trustees. The Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Finance are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.
Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund –
- The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was set up in January 1948, originally to accept public contributions for the assistance of Partition refugees.
- It is now used to provide immediate relief to the families of those killed in natural calamities and the victims of major accidents and riots and support medical expenses for acid attack victims and others.
- The PMNRF was initially managed by a committee which included the Prime Minister and his deputy, the Finance Minister, the Congress President, a representative of the Tata Trustees and an industry representative.
- However, in 1985, the committee entrusted the entire management of the fund to the Prime Minister, who currently has sole discretion for fund disbursal. A joint secretary in the PMO administers the fund on an honorary basis.
Cheetah Reintroduction Programme
The century-old Mysuru zoo has become the second Indian zoo to house the African cheetah, the fastest land animal, as it managed to get one male and two females from a cheetah conservation centre in South Africa under an animal-exchange programme.
What is the issue?
Recently, the Supreme Court lifted its seven-year stay on a proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an experimental basis.
About Cheetah –
- The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
- It is listed as vulnerable in IUCN red listed species.
- The cheetah — which is the fastest land animal — was declared extinct in India in 1952.
- The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List, and is believed to survive only in Iran.
- The plan was to revive the Indian cheetah population.
- In May 2012, the top court had stalled the plan to initiate the foreign cheetahs into the Palpur Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, fearing that they may come into conflict with a parallel and a much-delayed project to reintroduce lions into the same sanctuary.
- The court was also worried whether the African cheetahs would find the sanctuary a favourable clime as far as abundance of prey is concerned.
The cheetah does not breed well in captivity and requires vast stretches of grassland, and access to adequate prey to thrive.
Cheetah Reintroduction programme –
- The Wildlife Institute of India at Dehradun had prepared a ₹260-crore cheetah re-introduction project six years ago.
- Nauradehi was found to be the most suitable area for the cheetahs as its forests are not very dense to restrict the fast movement of the spotted cat. Besides, the prey base for cheetahs is also in abundance at the sanctuary.
- According to the earlier action plan, around 20 cheetahs were to be translocated to Nauradehi from Namibia in Africa.
No-go mining areas
Since 2015, of the 49 blocks cleared for coal mining, nine were in ‘No-Go’ areas, or regions that were once classified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change as containing very dense forests and hence closed to coal mining.
In 2020, of the 41 blocks put up for auction, 21 feature in the original No-Go list, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has said.
What are ‘no-go’ areas?
In 2009, the environment and coal ministries had jointly placed the country’s forested areas under two categories – Go and No-Go – and imposed a ban on mining in the ‘No-Go’ zones on environmental grounds. ‘No Go’ areas are those having either more than 10 per cent weighted forest cover (WFC) or more than 30 per cent gross forest cover (GFC). The concept has no legal standing– They are mandated neither under Forest Conservation Rules, 2003 nor under any circular issued by the ministry of environment and forests.
What is the issue?
- As per the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, a ban on mining in areas of thick forest cover has locked away millions of tonnes of coal reserves.
- According to the power ministry, coal shortage is likely to hold up new power projects of over 17,000 mw aggregate capacity. This has triggered debate among the ministries of coal, power and steel on the ‘Go, No-Go’ concept’s merits.
- However, it is also to be noted that currently India is not utilising its existing capacity fully i.e. 67% of the mines auctioned since 2015 are are not operational yet.