Current Affairs - 20 February 2014

New forest cover to be created

  • Government has cleared a plan to create new forest cover and improve the quality of existing forests with an expenditure of Rs. 13,000 crore in the 12th Plan.
  • Besides the two components, which are to be implemented through various measures including decentralisation of forest governance, the proposed National Mission for a Green India (GIM) as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme will also strive to achieve increased forest-based livelihood income of households living in and around the forests.
  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the proposal of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
  • The objectives of the Mission during 12th Plan period includes increased forest/tree cover and improved quality of forest cover in two to eight million hectares, along with improved ecosystem services including biodiversity, hydrological services, increased forest-based livelihood income of households, living in and around the forests, and enhanced annual CO2 sequestration.
  • Mission implementation will be on a decentralized participatory approach with involvement of grass root level organisations in planning, decision making, implementation and monitoring.
  • The gram sabha and the committees mandated by the gram sabha, including revamped Joint Forest Management Committees will oversee implementation at the village level.

The sixth language of the country to get “classical language’’ status

  • Odia became the sixth language of the country to get “classical language’’ status after the Union Cabinet conceded a long-pending demand for putting it in the same league as Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
  • Odia is billed as the first language from the Indo-Aryan linguistic group and the case for making it a classical language was also premised on the fact that it has no resemblance to Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali and Telugu. The proposal was moved by the Culture Ministry.
  • Once a language is declared classical, it gets financial assistance for setting up a centre of excellence for the study of that language and also opens up an avenue for two major awards for scholars of eminence. Besides, the University Grants Commission can be requested to create – to begin with at least in Central Universities – a certain number of professional chairs for classical languages for scholars of eminence in the language.
  • The criteria for declaring a language as classical mandates high antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1,500-2,000 years, a body of ancient literature/texts which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers and a literary tradition that is original and not borrowed from another speech community. Also since the classical language and literature is distinct from the modern, there can also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

Conversion of 7,200 km of state roads to highways

  • The government decided to convert 7,200 km of state roads into national highways.
  • With this the total length of the state highways converted into National Highways during the UPA regime would reach about 17,000 km.
  • About 10,000 km of state highways were declared national highways during the last 10 years.
  • These roads are spread across states including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh besides bordering areas such as Leh and Laddakh regions.
  • The present length of the National Highways in the country is about 80,000 km.

Mandatory Whistle-blower provision

  • Amid a growing number of scams related to corrupt practices in corporate India, market watchdog SEBI has decided to make it mandatory for listed companies to have a whistle-blower mechanism for their employees and directors.
  • The mechanism would also need to have necessary safeguards to protect whistle-blowers from victimisation, while checks would also be required against any misuse of this facility aimed at encouraging directors and employees to report genuine concerns and any wrongdoings at their company.
  • While the new Companies Act also provides for certain classes of companies being required to establish a vigil mechanism for their directors and employees, SEBI has now decided to incorporate a provision in this regard in its new Corporate Governance Code for listed firms.
  • The Code has been approved by the SEBI board and would be soon notified by the regulator.

India : amongst the top contenders for the Google Lunar XPrize

  • A poorly funded, rag-tag team in India is now among the top contenders for the Google Lunar XPrize, the grand global competition to land a robotic spacecraft on theMoon by December 2015.
  • Team Indus, co-founded by IITians Rahul Narayan and Indranil Chakraborty, has just been named among the five finalists for what are called milestone prizes, teams that have achieved certain technological landmarks and appear closest to reaching the final objective.
  • The pioneering reality show in space, announced in 2007 by Google and the XPrize Foundation, an education non-profit, promises the world some edge-of-the seat excitement in the months to come. It had 33 teams participating when registrations closed in 2011. Since then, a number of teams have withdrawn or merged. Currently 18 remain, some of which are led by world-renowned robotics and space researchers and super-rich folk.
  • The competition carries $40 million in prize money. The organizers' aim is to do something humanity has never accomplished: the safe landing of a private craft on the surface of the Moon, and possibly do so at a fraction of the cost that governmental space bodies incur.
  • Of the 18 teams, six are from the US, and others from countries including the UK, Germany, Japan, Israel, Brazil and Malaysia.

Himanshu Thakur finishes last

  • India’s only Olympic Alpine skier Himanshu Thakur finished last in the men’s giant slalom in Sochi Games .
  • The 20-year-old from the foothills of the Himalayas had to march behind an Olympic flag when the Games began because of a ban on India’s Olympic Association due to the election of a corruption-tainted official as secretary general.
  • The ban was lifted last week after fresh elections, meaning India’s team of three — who entered the Sochi Games as “independents” — can wear their country’s colours with pride.

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