Smart cities scheme to take off on June 25

India has asked all the countries keen on partnering with it in the ‘smart cities’ initiative to ready the blueprints for the projects they want to undertake, to avoid delay in execution.

  • The scheme is expected to be announced along with the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation on June 25.
  • So far, 14 countries had shown interest in sharing their expertise in building components that are prerequisites for a smart city. Denmark is the latest to join the list of countries that have offered know-how in building smart cities

Smart City Mission:

The Union Cabinet had in April, 2015 cleared the Smart Cities Mission — under which 100 smart cities would be built.

Aim of the Mission: The aim of the mission is to more efficiently utilise available assets, resources and infrastructure to enhance quality of urban life and provide a clean and sustainable environment.

Selection of the Cities:

  • Cities to be developed will be selected through a ‘competition’ intended to ascertain their ability to achieve mission objectives. Each state will shortlist a number of smart city aspirants, which will prepare proposals for the Centre.
  • Each selected city would get central assistance of Rs 100 crore per year for five years.
  • To begin about 20 cities would be selected after the state governments come forward with names of cities they want nominated.
  • There will be special emphasis on participation of citizens in prioritising and planning urban interventions.

Implementation:

  • The Mission will be implemented through ‘area based’ approach, which includes retrofitting, redevelopment, pan-city initiatives and development of new cities.
  • Under retrofitting, deficiencies in an identified area will be addressed through necessary interventions.
  • Redevelopment enables reconstruction of an area that is already built but not amenable for any interventions.
  • Pan-city components could be interventions like intelligent transport solutions that benefits residents by reducing commuting time.
  • The focus will be on core infrastructure services like adequate and clean water supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transportation, affordable housing for the poor, power supply, robust IT connectivity, governance, especially e-governance, and citizen participation.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB, BS, Wiki.

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Musicians, film-maker chosen for Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowships

Musicologist S.R. Janakiraman, film-maker M.S. Sathyu, classical singer Vijay Kichlu and musician Tulsidas Borkar have been chosen for the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowships for the year 2014.

  • Akademi ratnas, or fellowships, and awards for 2014 were decided by the General Council of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, also known as the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama, at its meeting recently.
  • The General Council also selected 36 artists from the fields of music, dance, theatre and puppetry for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards (Akademi Puraskar) for the year 2014.
  • The fellowship of the Akademi is considered a rare honour and restricted to a small group at a given time. At present, there are 40 fellows.

Sangeet Natak Akademi:

The Sangeet Natak Akademi – India’s national academy for music, dance and drama – is the first National Academy of the arts set-up by the Republic of India. It was created by a resolution of Government of India. It was set up in 1952.

  • The academy functions as the apex body of the performing arts in the country to preserve and promote the vast cultural heritage of India expressed in music, dance and drama.
  • It also works with governments and art academies in states and territories of the country.
  • The academy Renders advice and assistance to the government of India in the task of formulating and implementing policies and programmes in the field. It carries a part of the responsibilities of the state for fostering cultural contacts between regions in the country, as well as between India and the world.
  • The Akademi Awards are the highest national recognition conferred on eminent artistes.
  • Each year the Academy awards Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowships, Ratna Sadsya, to distinguished individuals for their contribution to the field of arts, music, dance and theatre.
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan award is given to young artists for their talent in the fields of music, dance and drama.

Sources: The Hindu, sangeetnatak.gov.in.

Telangana staff to pay if they delay projects

The Telangana government announced its maiden industrial policy recently with a unique feature — Right to Clearance, on the lines of Right to Information, for industrial projects. No country has such a policy.

What is Right to Clearance?

  • The Right to Clearance is intended to convey a message that the government is determined to create an ecosystem in which ease of doing business “matches and even exceeds the best global standards”.
  • It enables an applicant to know the reasons for the delay in clearance. For every day of delay in clearance, the State will fine the official concerned Rs. 1,000.

This feature, along with the government’s policy of “minimum inspection, maximum facilitation”, with single-window clearance and automatic renewals, besides encouraging self-certification, has caught the attention of the captains of industry.

Sources: The Hindu.

INSTC members discuss dry runs along Caspian Sea

With an eye on enhanced trade opportunities, 13 members of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) recently reviewed the status of the dry run study between India, Iran and Russia via the Caspian Sea.

  • The international transport corridor is expected to substantially reduce cargo transportation time between India and Central Asia and Russia.
  • The dry run between Nhava Sheva (Mumbai) – Bandar Abbas (Iran) – Baku (Azerbaijan) and Nhava Sheva – Bandar Abbas (Iran) – Amirabad (Iran) – Astrakhan (Russia) via the Caspian Sea was conducted in August last year.
  • Once the North-South Corridor becomes operational, India will have better connectivity with Russia, bringing down the freight rates.
  • India, which recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran for the development of the Chabahar port which is its anticipated gateway to Afghanistan, is keen to tap the trading potential with countries in the region and has been pushing for providing connectivity.

The International North–South Transport Corridor is the ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road. The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali and etc.

The Caspian Sea, surrounded by the five littoral countries, is the largest land-locked body of water on earth. The isolation of the Caspian basin, its climate and its sea characteristics like salinity gradients, have created a unique ecological system. The coastlines of the Caspian are shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. The Caspian Sea, like the Aral Sea, Black Sea, and Lake Urmia, is a remnant of the ancient Paratethys Sea.

Sources: The Hindu, caspianinfo.net, Wiki.

Debroy panel wants Railways to embrace liberalisation

An official committee, headed by NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy, has recommended a whole set of reforms, including entry of private players into the Railways, and separation of offline activities from the core business.

  • The committee has said that there is a need to explore varied methods of financing and also increase utilisation of available resources.

Important recommendations made by the committee:

  • It has proposed separation of activities like running of hospitals, schools, catering, real estate development, manufacturing of locomotives, coaches and wagons from the core business of running trains.
  • The committee has said that state governments should be asked to entirely fund the Government Railway Police (GRP) and the general managers should have the freedom to choose between private security guards and RPF for security on trains.
  • It has recommended establishment of an independent regulator — Railway Regulatory Authority of India. It lays down a five-year roadmap to evolve a statutory rail regulator, scrap the Rail Budget and make room for more players in an “open access” regime which turns the Railways into just another train-service provider in the country.
  • The panel says that the Regulator will work under the policy framed by the Ministry, while the present Railway Board will become a board of Indian Railways — the government-run operator — alone. The Regulator can recommend fare revisions but these will not be binding on the Railway Ministry leaving scope, presumably, for the political dispensation of the day to take a call.
  • The report envisages the creation of a Railway Ministry eventually with at least three Secretary-level officers to lay down policy for the rail sector.

Sources: The Hindu, IE.

Mansarovar yatra begins

The Kailash Mansarovar yatra, undertaken annually by hundreds of pilgrims, recently began. Over 13,500 people have undertaken the yatra since its inception in 1981. Last year, a record 910 pilgrims undertook the yatra.

  • However, with an alternative route to Kailash Mansarovar via Nathu La in Sikkim agreed upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, last year, it is feared that the number of pilgrims undertaking the yatra from the Uttarakhand route will come down.

Kailash Manasarovar Yatra:

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra (KMY) is known for its religious importance, cultural significance and arduous nature. The trek through high altitudes in freezing temperature entails hard labour and courting danger. The annual pilgrimage holds religious importance for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

  • Yatra involves trekking at high altitudes of up to 19,500 feet, under inhospitable conditions, including extreme cold and rugged terrain. It may prove hazardous for those who are not physically and medically fit.
  • Mansarovar Lake is located at an altitude of 14,950 ft (4,558 m) is said to be the highest freshwater lake in the world. It is located in the Tibet Autonomous Region, China, 940 kilometres (580 mi) from Lhasa. To the west of it is Lake Rakshastal and to the north is Mount Kailash.
  • The yatra is organized by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) annually. The Yatra is organized in close cooperation with the Government of the People’s Republic of China. State Governments of Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Delhi, and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited (KMVN) are other major Indian partners of the Ministry in organizing the Yatra.

Sources: The Hindu, MEA, Wiki.