IASCLUB Daily Current Affairs : 08 June 2019

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Policy moots all-India entrance tests for UG courses in public colleges

Topic: GS–II: Education, Human Resources

 Admission to undergraduate courses in all government-funded universities and colleges will soon be through all-India entrance tests, if the draft National Education Policy is approved.

  • Private institutions will also be strongly encouraged to make use of the common admission tests, which would be available from 2020.
  • The system seems to have some similarities to the SAT, a standardised aptitude test widely used for admissions to colleges and universities in the United States. The SAT, however, is used as a criterion alongside school grades.
  • In India, the common entrance test has largely been the domain of aspirants to professional or post-graduate courses, but that is already changing. The new National Testing Agency (NTA) has already conducted premier professional entrance tests — JEE, NEET, and CMAT — this year. Later this month, the NTA will also conduct admission tests for applicants to more than 170 Delhi University (DU) courses, including 12 undergraduate programmes.
  • Admission to all undergraduate programmes of public HEIs [Higher Education Institutions] will be through a process of assessment through the NTA. This seems to indicate that the NTA assessment may replace Class 12 marks as the criteria for admission to these state-funded institutions. This will help to eliminate the intensity, stressfulness, and wasted time of the Grade 12 examination season faced by students every year as well as by so many higher educational institutions and employers.

Offer flexibility

  • The NTA testing system would offer flexibility. From 2020 onwards, the NTA will administer aptitude tests and tests in specific subjects that can be taken on multiple occasions during the year in order to reduce the intense and unnecessary pressures of the university entrance examinations system.
  • The NTA tests will aim to assess essential concepts, knowledge, and higher order skills from the national common curriculum… for the purpose of aiding colleges and universities in their admissions decisions.
  • Private institutions could set their own criteria, but “most educational institutions and many employers will be encouraged to use these NTA tests.”
  • The draft projects the NTA establishing test centres across the country, offering tests in multiple languages.

‘1 mn new cases of STIs detected daily globally’

 Topic: GS–II: Health

 Every day, more than 1 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are detected in people aged 15-49 years, according to latest data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

More in news:

  • This amounts to more than 376 million new cases annually of four infections — chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and syphilis.
  • Published online by the bulletin of the WHO, the research shows that, among men and women aged 15-49 years, there were 127 million new cases of chlamydia in 2016; 87 million cases of gonorrhoea; 6.3 million cases of syphilis; and 156 million cases of trichomoniasis.
  • These STIs have a profound impact on the health of adults and children worldwide.

 Harmful impact

  • If untreated, they can lead to serious and chronic health effects that include neurological and cardiovascular disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirths, and increased risk of HIV. They are also associated with significant levels of stigma and domestic violence.
  • Syphilis alone caused an estimated 2,00,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths in 2016, making it one of the leading causes of infant mortality globally, WHO said.
  • Timely and affordable testing and treatment are crucial for reducing the burden of STIs globally, alongside efforts to encourage people who are sexually active to get screened for STIs.

SEBI, MCA sign pact for more data scrutiny

 Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

 The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to facilitate seamless sharing of data and information for carrying out scrutiny, inspection, investigation and prosecution.

More in news:

  • This assumes significance as the MCA has the database of all registered firms while SEBI only regulates listed entities that may have unlisted subsidiaries, with the MCA having access to all the data of such unlisted entities.

Why this?

  • “The MoU comes in the wake of increasing need for surveillance in the context of corporate frauds affecting important sectors of the economy. As the private sector plays an increasingly vital role in economic growth, the need for a robust corporate governance mechanism becomes the need of the hour.
  • According to the SEBI statement, the MoU will facilitate the sharing of data and information between the regulator and the MCA on an automatic and regular basis, while enabling sharing of specific information such as details of suspended companies, delisted firms, shareholding pattern from the SEBI and financial statements filed with the Registrar by corporates, returns of allotment of shares and audit reports relating to corporates.
  • The MoU will ensure that both the MCA and the SEBI have seamless linkage for regulatory purposes and in addition to regular exchange of data, the two will also exchange with each other, on request, any available information for scrutiny, inspection, investigation and prosecution.
  • A Data Exchange Steering Group will meet periodically to review the data exchange status.

Space station will be open to tourists from next year

Topic: GS -III: Science and Technology

U.S. space agency NASA said that it would open up the International Space Station to business ventures including space tourism — with stays priced at $35,000 a night — as it seeks to financially disengage from the orbiting research lab.

More in news:

  • There will be up to two short private astronaut missions per year. The missions will be for stays of up to 30 days. As many as a dozen private astronauts could visit the ISS per year.
  • These travellers would be ferried to the orbiter exclusively by the two companies currently developing transport vehicles for NASA: SpaceX, with its Crew Dragon capsule, and Boeing, which is building one called Starliner. These companies would choose the clients and bill for the trip to the ISS: around $58 million for a round trip ticket.
  • That is the average rate the companies will bill NASA for taking the space adventurers up to the ISS. The tourists will have to pay NASA for their stay in space, for food, water and use of the life support system on the orbiter. That will run about $35,000 per night.
  • The space station does not belong to NASA. It was built along with Russia starting in 1998, and other countries participate in the mission and send astronauts. But the U.S. has paid for and controls most of the modules that make up the orbiter.

Free rides, fare perspective

Topic: GS–II: Social Justice/Health

Delhi government’s proposal to make bus and Metro rides free for women has drawn reactions ranging from approval to rejection.

  • Under the proposal announced by the Delhi government Monday, women will have the option to not pay for rides. The move, which is at the stage of feedback and planning, has drawn reactions ranging from enthusiastic approval to vehement rejection.

Government’s logic

  • Cities in the United States and Europe have experimented with the idea of free public transport since at least the 1950s. Germany, France, Belgium, and Estonia have taken initiatives to make public transport free, either for the entire population or for sections such as students or senior citizens. Luxembourg has pledged to become the first country to make public transport free for everybody by 2020. The most common reason for any city incentivising the use of public transport has been to tackle congestion on the roads.
  • One, to make it easier for women to move from informal and more unsafe modes of transport such as shared autos and cabs to more formal and safer modes such as the Metro.
  • Two, to help more women enter the workforce.
  • A report prepared by the Delhi Labour Department in 2018 found that of the 19.6 lakh workers engaged in trading, service and the manufacturing sector in the city, only 11.4% were women, and nearly half of them worked as “informal hired workers”.
  • The government hopes that with women being able to travel for free, more of them, especially from the economically disadvantaged groups, would start working.

Precedents elsewhere

The proposal to make public transport free for women has no well-known precedent anywhere in the world, and could be the first of its kind. Studies on fully free public transport systems have underlined both positives and challenges.

  • Hasselt, Belgium, made public transport free in 1996, and also expanded its transport fleet. A decade later, a study reported a tenfold increase in ridership, however, rising operational costs forced Hasselt to do away with the scheme in 2014.
  • The small German town of Templin made public transport free in 1997, and continues with the policy even today. Within three years, ridership increased 1,200%, with children and the youth making up the vast majority of the increased numbers. This, however, led to increased vandalism. Also, “the vast majority of the substitution effects were due to shift from soft modes — 30-40% from biking and 35-50% from walking. Only 10-20% of the substitution effects were associated with previous car trips.”
  • In 1991, the Netherlands introduced a seasonal free-fare travel card for higher education students, which led to the share of trips made by students rising from 11% to 21%. Fifty-two per cent of cyclists, and 34% of car users moved.
  • However, small European cities can hardly be an indicator for Delhi. The population of all of the Netherlands is around 1.7 crore, much less than Delhi’s estimated 2 crore. Average income levels are not comparable, and the public transportation system in Delhi is weaker than in most European countries.

The way forward

  • The challenge for the Delhi government is to find the funds for the project — which it says it has. According to the Delhi government, the cost of subsidising women’s travel will be around Rs 1,200 crore annually. However, studies show that operational costs frequently rise in the long run, and schemes become increasingly less viable.
  • Then there are the challenges of implementation. Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) is looking at special passes for women. But the Metro has automated fare collection (AFC) gates that require tokens or Metro cards — the Metro will have to either isolate entry and exit points for women where AFC gates can be done away with, or come up with special cards or tokens for women.
  • Chief Minister has said that the move is primarily to ensure that women can travel safely. The Metro network has CCTV cover, guards, marshals, Metro police and the CISF, and is the safest mode of transport in the city. The Delhi government had announced CCTV cameras and marshals for buses too, but the plan is hanging fire.
  • Along with safety on public transport, last mile connectivity is a big issue. For women, walking to and from the nearest bus stop or Metro station, especially during the early mornings and late evenings, remains unsafe in many places in the city.

Editorial section:

Itinerary symbolism p – The Hindu

The spirit of 1989, from Tiananmen to Prague  – The Hindu

Unconscionable switch  – The Hindu


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