This news capsule covers relevant news from national dailies and government releases on PIB for 20th February and 21st February 2018 current affairs. Aspirants for UPSC IAS, CDS, SSC CGL, NDA, etc. will find it highly useful to cover for revision and awareness purposes.

 

National Important Current Affairs – 20 and 21 February 2018

■ India has opened up commercial coal mining to private companies (both Indian and foreign companies) for the first time in four decades. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the methodology for the auction of coal mines/blocks for sale of coal under the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. The move is likely to challenge state-run Coal India’s monopoly.

The opening up of commercial coal mining for the private sector is the most ambitious coal sector reform since the nationalisation of this sector in 1973. Coal accounts for around 70% of the country’s power generation, and now the sector is expected to garner attention from majors including Rio Tinto, BHP, Vedanta, Anglo American, Glencore and Adani Group. Till now only Power and aluminium producers could bid for the coal mines, now, private firms could bid without any end-use curbs.

Background: The Supreme Court in 2014 had cancelled 204 coal mines/blocks allocated to the various Government and Private Companies since 1993 under the provisions of Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973. In order to bring transparency and accountability, the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill 2015 was passed by the Parliament. Enabling provisions have been made in the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 for allocation of coal mines by way of auction and allotment for the sale of coal.

Benefits of Coal mines auction method: The auction — on an online transparent platform — will be an ascending forward auction whereby the bid parameter will be the price offer in Rs./tonne which will be paid to the State Government on the actual production of coal. This methodology gives the highest priority to transparency, ease of doing business and ensures that natural resources are used for national development.

Advantages: It will also lead to energy security as 70% of India’s electricity is generated from thermal power plants. This reform will also ensure assured coal supply, accountable allocation of coal and affordable coal leading to affordable power prices for consumers.The entire revenue from the auction of coal mines for sale of coal would be allocated to the coal-bearing States, it will incentivise them with increased revenues which can be utilised for the growth and development of backward areas and their inhabitants including tribals.

 

■ The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given its approval for the following:

  • In Karnataka, the six-laning of Nidagatta – Mysuru Section of NH-275 on Hybrid Annuity Mode, estimated to cost approximately Rs.2919.81 crorehas been approved. The project road is a section of NH 275 connecting – Bengaluru the commercial capital and Mysuru the cultural capital. Also, it links important places like Mangalore, Kodagu, parts of Kerala, etc. to Bangalore.
  • In Uttarakhand, the construction of 4.531 km long 2-Lane Bi-Directional Silkyara Bend – Barkot Tunnel with escape passage including approaches on Dharasu -Yamunotri section along NH-134 (old NH-94). The project will be built under Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Mode and funded under NH (O) Scheme of Ministry of RT&H and forms part of ambitious Chardham Plan. It will provide all weather connectivity to Yamunotri, one of the dham on Chardham Yatra and reduce the travel distance from Dharasu to Yamunotri by about 20 km and travel time by about an hour.

 

■ The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given approval for creation of National Urban Housing Fund (NUHF) for Rs.60,000 crores. This fund will be situated in Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), an autonomous body registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The Ministry has so far sanctioned 39.4 lakh houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban).

 

■ The government will reintroduce the Transgender bill in the Parliament with changes suggested by a parliamentary committee and various rights groups. Some of the changes include dropping the phrase “neither wholly male or female” from the definition of transgender and doing away with the need to have a screening committee at the district level.

 

Kerala will get the assets generated under MGNREGS geotagged and perhaps become the first state to achieve this distinction. The state Rural Development Department has already geo- tagged over 1 lakh assets.

 

About Geotagging:

It is the process of adding geographical information to various media in the form of metadata. The data usually consists of coordinates like latitude and longitude, but may even include bearing, altitude, distance and place names.

 

■ The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had recently organized the programme “Watan Ko Jano”. It is sponsored jointly by Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (Kashmir Cell) and State Rehabilitation Council Social Welfare Department. The programme aims to give exposure to the youth and children of Jammu and Kashmir about the cultural and socio-economic development taking place in other parts of the country.

 

■ The University Grants Commission (UGC) has constituted a four-member Empowered Expert Committee, which is being entrusted to conduct the appraisal of applications for shortlisting 20 Institutions of Eminence. N Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner of India is the Chairperson of the committee.

 

Vikas Sathaye, a Pune-born person has been honoured with the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award at the recently held Oscars Scientific and Technical Awards 2018 at Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, California. Sathaye and his team received the award for his contribution towards conceptualisation, designing, engineering, and the implementation of the ‘Shotover K1 Camera System’.

About Shotover K1 Camera System:

The Shotover K1 Camera System is a camera mount that is used in aerial filming. The camera mount gets attached to the base of a helicopter, which carries the camera and lens. The primary function of the camera mount is to eliminate any vibration from reaching the camera, thus ensuring a steady footage. The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards honor the men, women and companies whose discoveries and innovations have contributed in significant and lasting ways to motion pictures.

 

■ The Virgin Group has signed an “intent agreement” with Maharashtra to build a hyperloop transportation system between Mumbai and Pune, which aims to reduce the travel time between the two megacities to 20 minutes from the 3 hours at present. The first hyperloop route will link central Pune with the Navi Mumbai international airport. British tycoon Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One is proposing the tube-based transportation system—first theorized in 2013 by billionaire Elon Musk—to help address the infrastructure bottlenecks India is struggling with amid rapid urbanization.

About hyperloop transportation system:

It is a transportation system where a pod-like vehicle is propelled through a near-vacuum tube connecting cities at speeds matching that of an aircraft. In hyperloop transportation, custom-designed capsules or pods are expected to zip smoothly through continuous steel tubes which are held at a partial vacuum. The pod which sandwiches the passenger compartment between an air compressor upfront and a battery compartment in the rear is supported by air caster skis at the bottom.

The skis float on a thin layer of air provided under high pressure, eliminating rolling resistance and allowing for movement of the pods at high speeds. These capsules are expected to be driverless with estimated speeds of 1,000 km/h. Linear induction motors that are placed along the tube control the speed of the pod. Electronically-assisted acceleration and braking determine the speed of the capsule.

The US-based Hyperloop Transport Technology (HTT) claimed it costs $40 million per kilometre to build a hyperloop system while building a high-speed train line would cost almost twice. The Hyperloop system is being designed to transport passengers and freight.

 

International Current Affairs Capsule – 20 and 21 February 2018

India and Iran have signed a significant pact which gives New Delhi operational control of a part of the strategically located Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman for 18 months. The first phase of the Chabahar port has opened a new strategic route connecting Iran, India and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

About Chabahar port:

Iran’s Chabahar port is located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country. The port gives access to the energy-rich Persian Gulf nations’ southern coast and India can bypass Pakistan with the Chabahar port becoming functional. India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan. Chabahar port will boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. Additionally, Chabahar port will be beneficial to India in countering Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea which China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.

Chabahar port will ensure in the establishment of a politically sustainable connectivity between India and Afghanistan. This is will, in turn, lead to better economic ties between the two countries.

 

■ The World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) 2018 is being held in Hyderabad by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance. The theme of the event is: ‘Future Enterprises.’

The World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) is the largest and the most reputable international event among worldwide IT leaders being held since 1978. The event includes discussions of legal, political and economic trends affecting IT business processes, presentations of innovative solutions, B2B meetings and so on.

The WCIT has been previously hosted in countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Malaysia, USA, Greece, Australia, China, Spain, Japan, England, France, Denmark, Mexico, Brazil.

About WITSA:

The World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) is a consortium of associations from the information and communications technology (ICT) industry around the world. WITSA was founded in 1978 as an advocacy for international public policy that affects the “global information infrastructure”. It voices the concerns of the international IT industry in organisations such as the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the G8.

 

Myanmar is constructing a dam, called Tuidimjang, on the Twigem river flowing into Myanmar from Manipur. The Tuidimjang dam is being constructed across a river close to the boundary with India, and it has stoked fears of submergence and water scarcity among border villagers in Kengjoi subdivison of Manipur’s Chandel district. The villagers, dependent on the river, are already facing water scarcity. The dam is being built by Myanmar authorities barely 100 metres from the Zero Line separating the two countries.

 

Economics Today’s Current Affair Capsule – 20 and 21 February 2018

■ A two-day brainstorming meeting on WTO in the Post-MC11 Phase was organised by the Department of Commerce and the Centre for WTO Studies on 19-20 February 2018. The participants included representatives from industry, government, academia, think tanks, civil society and trade policy experts.

The objective of this brainstorming was to consult as widely as possible to elicit views on the WTO in the post-MC11 phase. The agenda covered a wide range of issues such as Agriculture, Services, Investment Facilitation, E-commerce, Institutional Issues, Development, MSMEs and Gender.

Reflecting on India’s long membership of GATT/WTO, the Commerce and Industry Minister stated that India plays a key role in ensuring the continued relevance of the WTO, as this is in the best interest of all countries, without exception. He also emphasised that special and differential treatment remains a critical aspect of the WTO’s framework and this is non-negotiable for India.

 

■ Private sector lender Axis Bank has opened an Off-shore Banking Unit at the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) at the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City). The offshore Banking unit is capable to trade in foreign currency in overseas markets and also with Indian Banks, raise funds in foreign currency in deposits & borrowings from non-residential sources and provide loans and liabilities products for clients.

 

■ In order to make Northeast a favourite destination for young Startups, the government has invited young start-ups to avail the benefits of Northeast Venture Fund.

About Northeast Venture Fund:

The Ministry of DoNER had rolled out “Venture Fund” for anybody who wishes to Startup in the Northeast region, which would provide a huge financial relief particularly to young entrepreneurs. Northeast Venture Fund is the first dedicated venture capital fund for North-Eastern region and the initiative to set it up began in April this year. It has been set up by North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi), which already has the mandate to encourage entrepreneurship in the region, primarily by offering support to the first-generation entrepreneurs. In addition, the NEDFi also performs the role of hand-holding and capacity building.

About ‘Venture Capital Funds’: Venture capital funds are investment funds that manage the money of investors who seek private equity stakes in startup and small- to medium-sized enterprises with strong growth potential. These investments are generally characterized as high-risk/high-return opportunities.

 

Obituaries

■ Well-known Telugu comedian Gundu Hanumantha Rao passed in Hyderabad at the age of 61 years. He has acted in more than 400 films and has received multiple Nandi awards as well.

 

“Current Affairs Questions for UPSC IAS Prelims – 20 and 21 February 2018 “

Q1. Who will be the new Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR)?

  • A) Arvind P. Jamkhedkar
  • B) Achala Moulik
  • C) Shereen Ratnagar
  • D) P. V. Parabrahma Sastry

Q2.The Botanical Survey of India (BSI) and UK’s Natural History Museum (NHM) has signed pact for cooperation in the field of genetic/taxonomic studies. Where is the headquarters of BSI?

  • A) Pune
  • B) Kochi
  • C) Kolkata
  • D) Chennai

Q3. The 44th Khajuraho Dance Festival 2018 will be held in which district of Madhya Pradesh?

  • A) Ujjain
  • B) Chhatarpur
  • C) Sagar
  • D) Singrauli

Q4. Which city is hosting the regional conference of southern states on water resources?

  • A) Hyderabad
  • B) Thiruvananthapuram
  • C) Kochi
  • D) Chennai

Q5. Which online payment service provider has partnered with Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) for deployment of PoS terminals?

  • A) Paytm
  • B) JioMoney
  • C) Freecharge
  • D) PhonePe

Answer these questions in the comments below. We encourage you to discuss your thoughts on the news and issues mentioned in today’s current affairs post. The idea is to promote healthy discussions on interesting issues to make preparation fun. Have a good day!

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