Government has accepted and implemented three important recommendations of Committee of Experts (CoE) under the Chairmanship of Lt General D B Shekatkar (Retd) relating to border infrastructure. These were related to speeding up road construction, leading to socio-economic development in the border areas.
Which recommendations are accepted?
- On the matter related to creating border infrastructure, the Government has implemented recommendation of CoE to outsource road construction work beyond optimal capacity of Border Roads Organisation (BRO). It has been made mandatory to adopt Engineering Procurement Contract (EPC) mode for execution of all works costing more than Rs 100 crore.
- The other recommendation relating to introduction of modern construction plants, equipment and machinery has been implemented by delegating enhanced procurement powers from Rs 7.5 crore to Rs 100 crore to BRO, for domestic and foreign procurements. Border Roads has recently inducted Hot-Mix Plant 20/30 TPH for speedier laying of roads, remote operated hydraulic Rock Drills DC-400 R for hard rock cutting, a range of F-90 series of self-propelled snow-cutters/blowers for speedier snow clearance.
- New Technology like blasting technology for precision blasting, use of Geo-Textiles for soil stabilisation, cementitious base for pavements, plastic coated aggregates for surfacing, is also being used to enhance the pace of construction. With the empowerment of field officers through enhanced delegation of financial and administrative powers, there has been significant improvement in faster financial closure of works.
- The land acquisition and all statutory clearances like forest and environmental clearance are also made part of approval of Detailed Project Report (DPR). Further, with the adoption of EPC mode of execution, it is mandatory to award work only when 90 per cent of the statutory clearances have been obtained, implementing the recommendation of CoE regarding obtaining prior clearances before the commencement of the project.
What is EPC model of project execution?
- Under this model the entire project is funded by the government.
- The EPC entails the contractor build the project by designing, installing and procuring necessary labour and land to construct the infrastructure, either directly or by subcontracting.
- Under EPC model the contractor is legally responsible to complete the project under some fixed predetermined timeline and may also involve scope for penalty in case of time overrun.
- In EPC as all the clearances, land acquisition and regulatory norms have to be completed by the government itself and the private players do not have to get itself involved in these time taking procedures.
About Shekatkar Committee –
- The military reforms committee – under Lt General (retd.) DB Shekatkar – was set up by then Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar in 2015.
- The committee was established with a mandate for Enhancing Combat Capability and Rebalancing Defence Expenditure.
- Shekatkar Committee had made recommendations on enhancing the combat potential of India’s three armed forces, rationalising the defence budget etc.
- A major recommendation of the committee is that the defence budget should be 2.5% to 3% of the GDP.
- Other recommendations – Closure of Military Farms and Army Postal Establishments in peace locations. Enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army. Improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps. Recommended a roll-on defence budget to have enough capital expenditure available for modernisation as against the present practice of surrendering unspent capital budget at the end of each financial year.
World Health Assembly
Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare participated in the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) through Video Conference recently.
About World Health Assembly –
- The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states.
- It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.
- The members of the World Health Assembly generally meet every year in May in Geneva, the location of WHO Headquarters.
- The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organisation, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
Initiatives for education sector
Union Finance Minister has recently announced an immediate set of initiatives to compensate the loss of education during the COVID-19 crisis for students.
- A comprehensive initiative called PM e-VIDYA will be launched which unifies all efforts related to digital/online/on-air education. This will enable multi-mode access to education, and includes: DIKSHA (one nation-one digital platform) which will now become the nation’s digital infrastructure for providing quality e-content in school education for all the states/UTs; TV (one class-one channel) where one dedicated channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12 will provide access to quality educational material: SWAYAM online courses in MOOCS format for school and higher education; IITPAL for IITJEE/NEET preparation; Air through Community radio and CBSE Shiksha Vani podcast; and study material for the differently abled developed on Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY) and in sign language on NIOS website/ YouTube.
- In this time of global pandemic, it is vital that we provide psychosocial support to students, teachers and families for mental health and emotional wellbeing. The Manodarpan initiative is being launched to provide such support through a website, a toll-free helpline, national directory of counsellors, interactive chat platform, etc. This initiative will benefit all school going children in the country, along with their parents, teachers and the community of stakeholders in school education.
- Government is expanding e-learning in higher education – by liberalising open, distance and online education regulatory framework. Top 100 universities will start online courses. Also, online component in conventional Universities and ODL programmes will also be raised from present 20% to 40%. This will provide enhanced learning opportunities to nearly 7 crore students across different colleges and Universities.
- There is a need to promote critical thinking, creative and communication skills, along with experiential and joyful learning for the students focussing on learning outcomes. The curriculum must be rooted in the Indian ethos and integrated with global skill requirements. Therefore, it has been decided to prepare a new National Curriculum and Pedagogical Framework for school education, teacher education and early childhood stage to prepare students and future teachers as per global benchmarks.
- A National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission will be launched, for ensuring that every child in the country necessarily attains foundational literacy and numeracy in Grade 3 by 202 For this, teacher capacity building, a robust curricular framework, engaging learning material – both online and offline, learning outcomes and their measurement indices, assessment techniques, tracking of learning progress, etc. will be designed to take it forward in a systematic fashion. This mission will cover the learning needs of nearly 4 crore children in the age group of 3 to 11 years.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) will set up the second squadron of indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas soon, said Air Chief Marshal confirming that the ‘high-priority’ deal for 83 LCA-MK1A jets is expected to be signed in three months.
About LCA Tejas –
- LCA Tejas was designed and developed by India’s HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited).
- It replaced the ageing Mig 21 fighter planes.
- It was in 2003 that the Light Combat Aircraft programme was named ‘Tejas’ (meaning radiance in Sanskrit) by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
- It is the second supersonic fighter jet that was developed by HAL (the first one being HAL HF-24 Marut).
- LCA Tejas is a single-engine multirole light combat aircraft.
- It is the lightest and smallest multirole supersonic fighter aircraft in its class.
- It is designed to carry a range of air-to-air, air-to-surface, precision-guided and standoff weaponry.
- Tejas has a single engine, compound Delta wing and has a tailless design.
Chinese media has accused India of building “illegal” defence facilities in the Galwan Valley region of the disputed Aksai Chin area, which is controlled by Beijing but claimed by New Delhi.
About Galwan Valley –
- It is an area from where the Galwan River flows from the disputed Aksai Chin region in southern Hotan County, Hota Prefecture, Xinjiang of China to Ladakh of India.
- The Galwan river originates in the area of Samzungling on the eastern side of the Karakoram range and flows west to join the Shyok river.
- It is one of the upstream tributaries of the Indus river.
- The river is named after Ghulam Rasool Galwan, a Ladakhi explorer from Leh, who first explored the course of the river.
- The Galwan river is to the west of China’s 1956 claim line in Aksai Chin. However, in 1960 China advanced its claim line to the west of the river along the mountain ridge adjoining the Shyok river valley.Meanwhile, India continued to claim the entire Aksai Chin plateau.
About Aksai Chin –
- Aksai Chin is a huge desert of Salt Flat located at the altitude of about 5,000 meters above sea level. Its area is about 37,244 square kilometres.
- This large area of the North Eastern part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under Chinese occupation since 1950s. China has administratively made it a part of the Kargilic district of Xinjiang Province.
- In the 1950s the Chinese built a military road through this region in order to connect Tibet with Xinjiang. India objected this new development which led to border clashes between the two countries in 1962. At the conclusion of the war, China retained control of about 38,000 square km of territory in Aksai Chin. The area remained a point of contention between the two countries till now.
- Aksai Chin constitutes 15 percent of the total area of Jammu and Kashmir, which is illegally occupied by China. India says that entire Jammu and Kashmir including Aksai Chin is an integral part of India while China has always claimed that Aksai Chin is Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang Uyghur). India says China has occupied 38,000 sq. km of its territory in Aksai Chin, while China claims 90,000 sq. km in Arunachal Pradesh.