Sunday, 26 February 2012

Virtual Labs

The aim of Virtual Labs is to enable university students to perform their required laboratory experiments using only a standard computer and Internet, thereby allowing sharing of costly equipment. It is a collection of ninety-one virtual laboratories containing hundreds of experiments in nine disciplines of science and engineering. Two types of virtual labs have been developed under this project:

a.    Simulation Based Virtual Labs: The simulations are carried out remotely at a high-end server, and the results are communicated to the student over the internet.  
b.    Remote Triggered Virtual Labs: the actual experiments are triggered remotely.  The output of the experiment (being conducted remotely) is communicated back to the student over the internet.

It is part of the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) which aims at providing easily accessible and high quality education throughout India.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Karuna Rai

Commander Karuna Rai is heading a contingent of 124 women officers of CRPF who are going to Liberia on peacekeeping duties as part of UN Peacekeeping Force. The unit will help in maintaining law and order and providing security to VVIPs. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009

Street vending is an ancient profession, which continues to play an important role in present day economy and society. It is not only a source of employment but provides ‘affordable’ services to the majority of urban population. Their contribution must be recognised and facilitated.
Vendors also constitute an important component of the demographic, numbering approximately 2% of the population. The total number of street vendors in the country is estimated at around 1crore. Noteworthy that women comprise a large number of street vendors in almost every city.  


Despite their importance in urban life they face much harassment from the police and civic authorities as they are considered as unlawful entities. To address the various issues concerning them and their trade, a policy was formulated in 2004. This was subsequently revised in 2009. The policy also aims to reflect the spirit of the Constitution of India w.r.t. equal protection before law , right to practice any profession, State’s duty to minimise inequality of income etc.  

Definition: A 'Street Vendor' is defined as 'a person who offers goods or services for sale to the public in a street without having a permanent built-up structure.' There are three basic categories of street vendors:
(a) stationary (those who carry out vending on a regular  basis at a specific locatio);
(b) peripatetic (those who vend their goods and services on foot, or by carrying their wares on baskets or pushcarts) and
(c) mobile (those who move from place to place vending their goods or services).

The overarching objective of this policy is:
-      Provide and promote a supportive environment for earning livelihoods to the Street vendors,
-      Ensure absence of congestion and
-      Maintenance of hygiene in public spaces and streets.

Specific objectives are:
1. Legal: To give vendors legal status by implementing appropriate laws and providing legitimate hawking zones in urban development/ zoning plans. Certain sections of the Indian Penal Code (Sec.283) and the Police Act (Sec.34) which criminalize their activity on account of 'causing obstruction in public places' must be suitably modified.
2. A Town Vending Committee (TVC) will be formed to supervise the entire process of planning, organisation and regulation of street vending activities.
3. Registration: Replacing discretionary licenses for vending by nominal fee-based licenses (Here market forces like price, quality and demand will determine the number of vendors that can be sustained and thus number of licenses to be issued).
4. Treating vendors as an integral and legitimate part of the urban distribution system, since they facilitate convenient, efficient and cost-effective distribution of goods and services to the public.
5. Self Compliance: To promote self-compliance amongst Street vendors.
6. Organization: To promote organizations of Street vendors (e.g. Unions / Co-operatives/ Associations) to facilitate their empowerment.
7. Rehabilitation of child vendors to ensure a better future for them.
8. Social Security & Financial Services: To promote social security (pension, insurance, etc.,) and access to credit for Street vendors through promotion of SHGs/co-operatives/Federations/Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) etc.

Critique of the Policy:
  • Although the policy ensures that more than 40 percent of the members of TVCs are from the street vendors’ associations, it remains silent on the fact that only a meager proportion of street vendors in India fall under the fold of unions. Who will represent such a large number of non-unionized street vendors in the TVCs? The National Policy, then, seeks to institutionalize a certain form of participatory exclusion. 
  • Many street vendors’ associations have questioned the limited possibilities of stake-holder participation in the TVCs which are heavily populated by high level state executives.
  • The National Policy does not provide a guideline for the states to handle surplus labor force in the sector. For this reason, the National Policy should be linked with a larger employment generation scheme led by the state.”3

Urgent need for a central law on this issue, applicable to all States and UTs has been expressed by civil society. In response to this the Ministry for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) has drafted the ‘Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street-vending) Bill 2009. However the NAC has pitched for a central law to replace this bill. According to the council, the model bill allows the Centre to wash its hands of the matter and leave the execution of the legislation entirely to the states. The council believes a central law is justified because street vending is not a matter of “mere municipal regulation” but of “livelihoods, employment and social security of a significant number of urban poor households”. It says the central law should “prevail” if the states’ municipal and police laws are inconsistent with it. 7

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

High Security Registration Plates (HSRP)

High Security Registration Plates (HSRP) refer to vehicle registration plates that have been introduced by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to prevent counterfeiting and duplication of vehicle number plates.  This will curb vehicle thefts and misuse.

The HSRPs have:
- a non-replicable chromium hologram having the engine and chassis number. This will stick to the windshield and will get damaged if someone tries to tamper with it.
- the rear registration plate will be fitted with a non-reusable snap-lock, which if forcible removed will break and thus clearly show that the number plate has been tampered with. 

High-security registration plates
Source: reference 1.

The policy decision to introduce HSRPs was taken in 2001 but it hasn’t been implemented yet. Apparently only Sikkim and Meghalaya have introduced this so far. Therefore recently the Supreme Court has directed all state governments to ensure HSRP for all vehicles by June 15th, 2012. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR)

SAR is the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone. India has adopted a stringent SAR limit of 1.6 watts per kg. Also directions have been given to prominently display the SAR value on every handset.

The risks of long-term exposure to radio frequency waves have been established in a recent study. Younger children should be discouraged from using cellular phones, because their skulls are thinner than adults and cells are more likely to be sensitive to mobile-phone radiation.

Source: The Hindu, 7th Feb., 2012.

Homai Vyarawalla

Was India’s first woman photojournalist. She was active from 1930-70. Used the pseudonym ‘Dalda-13’. Was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2011. Died in Jan 2012. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Sec. 27(3) of The Arms Act (1959)

Section 27 (3) of The Arms Act (1959) provides for mandatory death sentence to an accused charged with an offence under this provision.
Section 27(3) says: “Whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition or does any act in contravention of Section 7 and such use or act results in the death of any other person shall be punishable with death.”
The Supreme Court of India struck down Sec 27(3) as unconstitutional, because it imposes mandatory death penalty on the convicted person and runs contrary to the statutory safeguards that give the judiciary discretion in the matter of imposing death penalty. Thus it violates the principle of ‘judicial review’ (which is a ‘basic feature’ of the Constitution).

The SC also noted that the Arms Act is a post-constitutional law and thus has to obey Art. 13 of Constitution (which says that any law that takes away of abridges the rights given in this Part, i.e. Fundamental Rights, shall be void). The Sec 27 (3) is thus repugnant to Art. 14 and 21 of the Constitution and is therefore void.

S-Band Spectrum

The S-Band is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and refers to radio waves with frequency of 2.5 GHz. It is being used globally for providing mobile broadband services using fourth generation technologies such as WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE).

This frequency band is unique because it has a substantial amount of spectrum (190 MHz) that can be put to use for mobile services. The World Radio-Communications Conference 2000 (held under the aegis of the International Telecommunication Union), designated the 2.5 Ghz band for mobile services. Since then there is great demand for this spectrum among telecom providers, fetching governments billions of dollars in auctions.

In India there is much competition for S-Band spectrum between providers of terrestrial mobile phone service, satellite mobile services, wireless broadband service and the Department of Space (which needs it for radio networking, meteorological data dissemination etc). Despite this the S-Band Spectrum in the Antrix-Devas deal was given without auction for a nominal sum of Rs. 1000 crore for 70 MHz, in comparison to BSNL and MTNL who were asked to pay Rs. 12,847 crore for 20 Mhz allotted to them. (The deal was scrapped in 2011 and investigations are underway).

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has sought to review the usage of this frequency band by the incumbents (DoS was allotted 150MHz of the band in the 1980s), and refarm it for commercial mobile services. This is required to keep the Indian telecom industry in step with global trends, and thus maintain its viability and efficiency. 3

INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC)

The INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC) is a body responsible for the overall coordination and management of the INSAT system, as well as to recommend the utilisation of satellite capacities by non-government users. It is headed by a Secretary-level Officer. It is currently in the news w.r.t. the Antrix-Devas deal on S-Band Spectrum, as it is being contended that the ICC was not informed of this deal.

1.      The Hindu

Thursday, 2 February 2012

MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft)

The Government of India is seeking to induct 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) to fill the gap between the Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas still undergoing trials) and the Sukhoi-30 fighters in the Indian Airforce. It will replace ageing aircraft as well as augment the squadron strength which is estimated to stand at 32-33, much below the desired target of 39.5. The induction of the MMRCA will also bring in the required firepower to tackle China and Pakistan.4

After an almost decade-long process, the Ministry of Defence selected the Rafale fighter aircraft of the French Dassault Company, in January 2012. The Ministry has allocated about 12 billlion USD for the purchase of these aircraft, making it India's single largest defence deal.1

Although GoI is stating that the selection has been made purely on technical and cost grounds, the decision would have some strategic impact. “For India, the Rafale acquisition widens its strategic options in a world where multi-polarity is a fact of life. It could provide the leverage for India to hold France to its promise of increasing cooperation across a whole range of areas. Of particular interest, is the enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment transfers.  This acquires importance in light of the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group ban on sale of ENR items to India, where France said that it would not be bound by the new restrictions”.7 Another area to receive a fillip could be intelligence sharing, and joint observation of the Indian Ocean. Increased cooperation between India and France may also help India to spread its influence in western Africa, which is known as France’s backyard.8

Nonetheless India is behind China in air-capability. The MMRCA are fourth generation fighter jets, whereas China is preparing to induct its fifth generation indigenous stealth fighter Chengdu J-2o in 2017. It would take almost four years for the first aircraft to arrive after the deal is inked, so by the time India gets its fourth generation aircraft in 2016, the Chinese will be ready to induct their fifth generation aircraft. To keep pace on this, India and Russia signed a preliminary design contract to jointly develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft in December 2010. However the fear remains that this project will be subject to the huge delays that have dogged joint ventures with Russia. 3

Note: A squadron comprises around 18 to 20 aircraft.5