18th January Current Affairs

1.SKOCH Challenger Award

News: Ministry of Panchayati Raj received the SKOCH Challenger Award conferred to Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) under “Transparency in Governance” category for IT-led initiatives and transformational reforms leading to outcome-based performance improvement, better transparency and strengthening of the e-Governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) across the country.

About the SKOCH Challenger Award

  • The SKOCH Challenger Awards are distinctive for its approach of selection of awardees, which is not based on the nomination but on discovery.
  • The SKOCH Challenger Award is considered India’s Highest Independent Honour and is conferred after exhaustive research and expert evaluations.
  • The SKOCH Challenger Awards acknowledge people, projects and institutions that go the extra mile to make India a better nation.

The following are the initiatives of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj for strengthening e-Governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions to enable them to discharge their mandated functions effectively while facilitating transparency, accountability and robust service delivery:

SVAMITVA Scheme

  • The launch and implementation of SVAMITVA (Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) Scheme has been one of the milestone and major steps ahead towards ensuring socio-economic empowerment of the rural masses with overriding objective of making the rural inhabitant self-reliant.
  • SVAMITVA Scheme aims to provide an integrated property validation solution for rural India, engaging the latest drone surveying technology, for demarcating the inhabitant land in rural areas.
  • Under the SVAMITVA Schemethe first ever exercise undertaken to carry out property survey of all villages to provide Record of Rights to millions of rural property owners of inhabited area by issuing property card to them for their immovable residential property.
  • This is expected to pave the way to use their property as a financial asset for availing loans and other financial benefits from banks as in the case in towns and cities.
  • Besides, this will ensure modernised and digitised land records for an easier and efficient method of maintaining and updating the land records and bring transparency in the land records management system.

e-GramSwaraj

  • In order to strengthen e-Governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), e-GramSwaraj application has been developed with amalgamating the functionalities of currently available applications in the Panchayat Enterprise Suit (PES) under e-Panchayat Mission Mode Project (MMP).
  • The application subsumes the electronic fund management system (e-FMS) applications comprising of PlanPlus, ActionSoft, PRIASoft and National Asset Directory (NAD) along with the Area Profiler Application with Local Government Directory (LGD) acting as the underlying Panchayat directory.
  • e-GramSwaraj application provides single window with the complete profile of the Gram Panchayat, including Sarpanch and Panchayat Secretary details, demographic details of Panchayat, details of Panchayat Finances, asset details, activities taken up through Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP), Mission Antyodaya survey reports etc.
  • The application aims to bring in more transparency, thus strengthening the e-Governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) across the country through decentralized planning, process reporting and work-based accounting. Furthermore, the application provides a platform for effective monitoring.

On-line Monitoring Systems of Central Finance Commission (CFC) Funds Flow & Proper Utilisation

  • The key focus areas of Ministry of Panchayati Raj over the last few years has been to track the fund flow of the Central Finance Commission grants and also to ensure timely payments on real-time basis to the service providers in the Panchayats.
  • The Online Payment Module (erstwhile PRIASoft-PFMS Interface (PPI)) is one of its kind whereby Gram Panchayats are carrying out online payments to the vendors and service providers.
  • The main objective of introducing such a module is to have a sound financial management system in the Panchayats leading to their greater credibility and image.
  • IT based solutions like the PRIASoft – PFMS interface for making all payments under CFC grants and Mobile app – mActionSoft has been developed to enable PRIs upload geo-tagged photos of the works/assets created out of CFC.

AuditOnline

  • The Fifteenth Finance Commission has prescribed for preparation of online audited accounts of the RLBs. In this regard, MoPR has conceptualized and developed an application called “AuditOnline” for online audit of Panchayat accounts in order to strengthening the transparency and accountability at grassroots level.
  • It allows for online audit of Panchayat accounts and records detailed information about internal and external audit. It not only facilitates the auditing of accounts but also provisions for maintaining digital audit records pertaining to audit that has been carried out.
  • This application encompasses to streamline the process for audit inquiries, draft local audit reports, draft audit paragraphs etc. The Audit Online would be able to be integrated in tandem with the PPI, for easy flow of accounting related information.
  • In order to familiarize the State PRI and Audit Departments to the working of the application, it has been decided that at least a minimum of 20% of the PRIs in every State would be audited by Audit Online on pilot basis for auditing of the accounts for FY 2019–2020. During the next year, i.e. for FY 2020–21, Audit Online would be fully scaled up to cover 100% of the PRIs.

ServicePlus

  • ServicePlus– a versatile and secure solution for service delivery – makes all Government services accessible to the common man in his/her locality, through common service delivery outlets, and ensure efficiency, transparency, and reliability of such services at affordable costs to realize the basic needs of the common man.

Gram Manchitra – Geo-Spatial Planning Application

  • Gram Manchitra is a Spatial Planning Application for facilitating and supporting Gram Panchayat users to perform planning at Gram Panchayat level with the use of geo spatial technology. ‘Real time’ monitoring of development work implementation status and progress of execution of various schemes can be easily tracked.

2.SAKSHAM Campaign

News: With a view to create awareness among the consumers of fossil fuels, Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA), Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gastoday launched a month long campaign, highlighting the adverse health and environmental impacts of increasing carbon footprints.

Need for such campaign

  • The need for energy conservation as India’s energy demand grows and called on for leveraging technologies and digital innovation to achieve the twin goals of energy efficiency and sustainability as we move forward.

About the campaign:

  • ‘SAKSHAM’s idea is to convince consumers to switch to cleaner fuels and bring in behavioral change to use fossil fuel intelligently.
  • The campaign through various pan-India activities such as cyclothon, farmer workshops, seminars, painting competition, CNG vehicle driving contest, etc will spread awareness among masses about the advantages of using clean fuels.
  • The campaign will also spread awareness about 7 key drivers that Prime Minister NarendraModi recently mentioned,saying that collectively these would help India move towards cleaner energy.
  • The key drivers include moving towards a gas-based economy, cleaner use of fossil fuels, greater reliance on domestic sources to drive bio-fuels, achieving renewable targets with the set deadlines, increased use of electric vehicles to decarbonize mobility, increased use of cleaner fuels like Hydrogen, and digital innovation across all energy systems.

Significance

  • Saksham like initiatives help in reducing fuel consumption and adoption of energy efficiency measures which lead to better lives of the people, healthy environment, sustainability and development of the country.
  • The theme of this year’s campaign not only focuses on conserving fossil fuels but also on promoting green energy.
  • All the energy companies are now part of the transition to fuels which are clean and leave very less carbon footprint.

3.Whistleblowers’ Protection

News: The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today suggested all corporates to consciously encourage whistle-blowing mechanism and provide adequate safeguards for the protection of whistleblowers. Delivering the Convocation Address at the Institute of Company Secretaries of India, the Vice President stressed that it was important to ensure transparency and accountability in all matters of corporate governance to enhance the confidence of all the stakeholders, including the shareholders.

What is Whistleblowing?

  • Whistleblowing is defined as an act of disclosing informationby an employee or any concerned stakeholder about an illegal or unethical conduct within an organization.
  • A whistleblower is a person who informs about a person or organization engaged in such illicit activity.

Background:

  • The Law Commission of Indiain 2001, had recommended that, in order to eliminate corruption, a law to protect whistleblowers was necessary. It had drafted a bill as well to address this issue.
  • In 2004,in response to a petition filed after the infamous murder of NHAI Official, the Supreme Court of India directed the Central government that, ‘administrative machinery be put in place for acting on complaints from whistleblowers till a law is enacted.’
  • The government, in response, notified a resolution in 2004 named, ‘Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informers Resolution (PIDPIR)’. This resolution gave the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)the power to act on complaints from whistleblowers.
  • In 2007,the report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission also recommended that a specific law needs to be enacted to protect whistleblowers.
  • The UN Convention against Corruptionto which India is a signatory (although not ratified) since 2005, encourages states to facilitate reporting of corruption by public officials and provide protection for witnesses and experts against retaliation.
  • The Convention also provides safeguards against victimization of the person making the complaint.
  • To conform with such regulations, in 2011 Whistleblowers Protection Billwas proposed which finally became a law in 2014.
  • TheCompanies Act, 2013, as well as the Securities and Exchange Board of India regulations have made it mandatory for companies to take notice of all such complaints.

Whistleblower Protection Act, 2014

  • The act establishes a mechanism to receive complaints related to disclosure of allegations of corruption or wilful misuse of power or discretion, against any public servant,and to inquire or cause an inquiry into such disclosure.
  • The act also provides adequate safeguards against victimization of the person making such complaints.
  • It allows any person, including a public servant, to make apublic interest disclosure before a Competent Authority. The law has elaborately defined various competent authorities. For instance, Competent authority to complaint against any union minister is the Prime Minister.
  • The law does not allow anonymous complaintsto be made and clearly states that no action will be taken by a competent authority if the complainant does not establish his/her identity.
  • The maximum time period for making a complaint is seven years.
  • Exemptions:The act is not applicable to the Special Protection Group (SPG) personnel and officers, constituted under the Special Protection Group Act, 1988.
  • Court of Appeal:Any person aggrieved by any order of the Competent Authority can make an appeal to the concerned High Court within a period of sixty days from the date of the order.
  • Penalty:Any person who negligently or mala-fidely reveals the identity of a complainant will be punishable with imprisonment for a term extending up to 3 years and a fine which may extend up to Rs 50,000.
  • If the disclosureis done mala-fidely and knowingly that it was incorrect or false or misleading, the person will be punishable with imprisonment for a term extending up to 2 years and a fine extending up to Rs. 30,000.
  • Annual Report:The Competent Authority prepares a consolidated annual report of the performance of its activities and submits it to the Central or State Government that will be further laid before each House of Parliament or State Legislature, as the case may be.
  • The Whistleblowers Act overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923and allows the complainant to make public interest disclosure before competent authority even if they are violative of the later act but not harming the sovereignty of the nation.
  • In 2015, an amendment billwas moved that proposes, whistleblowers must not be allowed to reveal any documents classified under the Official Secrets Act of 1923 even if the purpose is to disclose acts of corruption, misuse of power or criminal activities. This dilutes the very existence of the 2014 Act.

4.Implementation of National Education Policy for school education

 News: Implementation plan of National Education Policy, 2020 for school education was recently released by Ministry of Education.

Background: The National Education Policy, 2020 is the third in the series of National Education Policies (1968 and 1986 modified in 1992) in India and is the first education policy of the 21st century. NEP 2020 covers wider spectrum of school education from pre-primary to senior secondary.

Details:

  • The recommendations given have varied timelines as the policy is made for next 20 years. Therefore, the implementation of NEP is being carried out in a phased manner.
  • ShikshakParv was organised from 8thto 25th September 2020 for discussing various recommendations of NEP 2020 and its implementation strategies. Around 15 lakh suggestions were received from the stakeholders, which are being examined.
  • To achieve the goals and objectives of NEP 2020, DoSEL has prepared a draft implementation plan with Task lists linking each recommendation with tasks, responsible agencies to carry out the task, timelines and outputs. This task list was shared with the States/UTs/Autonomous Bodies on 10thSeptember, 2020, to provide their feedback/suggestions till 12th October, 2020.
  • Autonomous Bodies of this Department and 31 States and UTs provided 7177 suggestions/ feedback on the task list. These have been analysed by expert groups and important suggestions have been incorporated in the final version of implementation plan.
  • Appropriate care is being taken to make this implementation plan realistic, flexible and collaborative by inviting suggestions from all corners of the society. It is hoped that this implementation plan so finalised with the inputs of all associates will be able to translate the vision of the policy in the field and will reach to grass root level creating adequate awareness and motivation and competencies among concerned stakeholders, thereby transforming the school education in the country.
  • The major portions of NEP will be covered under the new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and centrally sponsored schemes. Groundwork for NCF is initiated and it is likely to be developed in the next academic session, that is 2021-22.
  • The department has initiated implementation of NEP by undertaking following activities in accordance with the recommendations of the policy :
  • To undertake 50 hours of mandatory Continuous Professional development of teachers, 18 modules of 4-5 hours each comprehensively covering all aspects of elementary education have been launched under NISHTHA on 6.10.20 for in service teacher training (CPD) in the online mode on DIKSHA platform. This has so far seen more than 3.4 cr course wise registrations and 2.8 cr completions from more than 23 lakh teachers.
  • In-principle approval has been given for setting up the National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission. A Committee has been formed for preparing framework on FL&N, codification of learning outcomes etc.
  • E-learning has been expanded through DIKSHA. DIKSHA provides access to a large number of curriculum linked e-content through several solutions such as QR coded Energized Textbooks (ETBs), courses for teachers, quizzes etc. Till date DIKSHA houses over 3600 QR coded textbooks (tagged with e-content) from 29 states, 1.44 lakh e Contents and more than 300 courses.
  • The department has launched an initiative called ‘Manodarpan’ for mental health and wellbeing of students. It aims to provide emotional support and counselling to the students under distress. Issuance of advisory guidelines, web page and national toll-free number, interactive online chat options and, national-level database and directory of counsellorsare part of the initiative.
  • MoU has been signedbetween Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) and NCERT to develop Indian Sign Language dictionary for school education.
  • CBSE exam reforms have been initiated; CBSE will introduce improvement examination from the year 2021 and will introduce English and Sanskrit in 2 levels from the session 2021-22 (already offers Mathematics and Hindi at two levels). Competency based questions have been introduced in the Board exams for class X and XII in a phased manner, increasing by 10% every year.
  • Learning Outcomes upto Secondary level have been notified and draft of learning outcomes for senior secondary level have been released for inviting suggestions.
  • The department is also aligning its existing schemes i.e, Samagra Shiksha, Mid Day Meal and Padhna Likhna Abhiyan with the recommendations of NEP 2020. 86 paras of NEP have been proposed to be covered/integrated under the revised scheme of Samagra Shikshawhich includes phased introduction of:
  • 1 year of Balvatika and TLMs to all children, Launch of National Mission of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy,
  • upgradation of schools upto senior secondary level including residential schools and KGBVs,
  • Holistic Progress Card (HPC) and tracking of learning outcomes as well as transition of children, appointment of Hindi and Urdu Language Teachers,
  • Capacity building of teachers (50 Hrs CPD), Bagless days and internships, Support for OOSC, Activities of PARAKH,
  • Separate stipend for CWSN girl child; provision for identification of CWSN and Resource Centre at block level,
  • Provision for Hub and Spoke model in vocational education,
  • Provision for Smart classroom and DIKSHA, Support for Assessment Cells in SCERT etc., etc.
  • States and UTs are also constituting their own Task Force to steer implementation of the NEP provisions in their respective jurisdiction.

5.Thiruvalluvar Day

News: The Prime Minister remembered Thiruvalluvar on the occasion of Thiruvalluvar Day (15th January 2021), observed to mark the birth anniversary of Tamil poet and philosopher.

About the Thiruvalluvar Day:

  • It wasfirst celebrated on 17th-18th May in 1935. In the present time, it is usually observed either on 15th or 16th January in Tamil Nadu and is a part of Pongal

Who was Thiruvalluvar?

  • Thiruvalluvar is fondly referred to as Valluvar by Tamils was born during 4th-5th century CE. His ‘Thirukkural’, a collection of 1,330 couplets (‘kurals’ in Tamil), are an essential part of every Tamil household. It holds importance in the same way the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana are in traditional North Indian Hindu households.
  • Thiruvalluvar is revered as an ancient saint, poet, and a philosopher by Tamils, irrespective of their religion. He is an essential anchor for Tamils in tracing their cultural roots; Tamils are taught to learn his couplets word-for-word and to follow his teachings in their day-to-day living.

Social Significance of Thiruvalluvar:

  • Astatue of the legendary Tamil poet was unveiled in Ulsoor, near Bengaluru, in 2009. A statue of Valluvar was also erected outside the School of Oriental and African Studies in Russell Square, London.
  • A 133-foot tall statue of Thiruvalluvar stands atKanyakumari as well.
  • The Thiruvalluvar Universitywas established in Vellore district of Tamilnadu by the Government of Tamilnadu in October 2002. In 1976, a temple-memorial called Valluvar Kotam was built in Chennai and houses one of the largest auditoriums in Asia. In the early 16th century, a temple dedicated to Thiruvalluvar was built within the Ekambareswarar temple complex in Mylapore, Chennai.