NATIONAL HIGHWAY AUTHORITY OF INDIA (NHAI) 

 #GS2 #Economy 

News : 

National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has accomplished construction of 3,979 kilometre of national highways in financial year 2019-20, which was the highest ever construction of National Highways in a financial year by NHAI. 

About National Highways Authority of India or NHAI 

  • National Highways Authority of India was formed under the NHAI Act in 1988. 
  • It is an autonomous organization that looks after the management of the complete network of National Highways in the country. 
  • NHAI signed an MoU with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the North East Centre for Technology Application and Research (NECTAR) in 2016 that allowed the use of spatial technology for highways monitoring. 

Functions of NHAI 

  • Developing, maintaining and managing National Highways (NH) across the country. 
  • Collecting fees/tolls on NH, regulating and controlling the plying of vehicles on NH for proper management. 
  • Developing and providing consultancy and construction services on a national and international level. Also, conducting research activities that help develop, maintain and manage highways or other facilities thereat. 
  • Advising the Central government on issues related to NH. 
  • Formulating and implementing schemes for NH development. 
  • Constructing offices and residential buildings for NHAI employees. 
  • Providing facilities and amenities to NH users necessary for the smooth flow of traffic on such highways. 

SC issues guidelines for all courts for hearings through video conferencing during COVID-19 outbreak 

#GS2 #Judiciary #e-Courts 

The Supreme Court today passed a slew of directions for all courts across the country to extensively use video-conferencing for judicial proceedings.  

  • It said that congregation of lawyers and litigants must be suspended to maintain social distancing amid coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The top court, which has restricted its functioning and is conducting hearing through video conferencing of extremely urgent matters during the lockdown period since March 25. 

About e-Courts : 

e-Courts Project 

  • The e-Courts project was conceptualized on the basis of the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary – 2005” submitted by e-Committee, Supreme Court of India with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts. 
  • The e-Courts Mission Mode Project, is a Pan-India Project, monitored and funded by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India for the District Courts across the country. 

The project envisages: 

  • To provide efficient & time-bound citizen-centric services delivery as detailed in e-Court Project Litigant's Charter. 
  • To develop, install & implement decision support systems in courts. 
  • To automate the processes to provide transparency in the accessibility of information to its stakeholders. 
  • To enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively & quantitatively, to make the justice delivery system affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable and transparent. 

E-committee 

  • E-committee is a body constituted by the Government of India in pursuance of a proposal received from the supreme court of India for assistance in formulating a National policy on computerization of Indian Judiciary and advise on technological communication and management related changes. 
  • The E-Committee was set up in 2004 to provide a guide map for the use of I-T and administrative reforms in the judiciary. 
  • All expenditure in connection with the functioning of the e-Committee, including salary and allowance etc. of the Chairman, Members and the supporting staff is met from the sanctioned budget of the Supreme Court of India. 

Pench tiger death raises COVID fears 

#GS3 #Wildlife 

NTCA mulls test after a big cat tested positive for the virus in a U.S. zoo 

  • The spectre of COVID-19 has made its appearance in one of India’s most storied tiger reserves. The death of a 10-year-old ailing male tiger, in the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) — the country’s most munificent reserve —that succumbed to a ‘respiratory illness’ last Saturday would have been a routine affair. 
  • But a report of a confirmed COVID-19 infection in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, in New York, United States and advisories by divisions of the Environment Ministry that deal with the protection of the cats in zoos, as well as in Tiger Reserves has officials in the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)— the organisation that manages the protection of India’s 3,000-odd tigers — puzzling on whether the tiger should be tested for the novel coronavirus disease. 
  • The viscera samples collected as part of the standard protocol have been preserved and will be sent to the veterinary research college in Jabalpur as well as the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. 
  • The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the NTCA issued guidelines that require zoos to be on the “highest alert” and monitor animals on closed-circuit cameras 24/7 for “abnormal behaviour and symptoms.”  
  • The directive to Wildlife Wardens in States and reserves adds that tigers ought to be observed for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as respiratory signs of nasal discharge, coughing and laboured breathing and that personnel handling tigers have to be ascertained negative. 

MPLADS suspended; PM, MPs to take 30% salary cut 

#GS2 #Governance 

The saved amount will go to fund to combat COVID-19 

  • The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a 30% cut in the salaries of all Members of Parliament and a two-year suspension of the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) scheme so that the amount saved can go to the Consolidated Fund of India to fight COVID-19.  
  • Narendra Modi, approved an ordinance to amend the Salaries, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954, to cut the salaries of MPs by 30%. 

1.7 lakh PPEs from China to ease shortage 

#GS2 #InternationalRelations 

Gear to go to States with higher cases 

  • Supply lines from abroad opened up on Monday with the receipt of 1.7 lakh Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) coveralls donated from China.  
  • Along with domestic supplies of 20,000 coveralls, a total of 1.9 lakh coveralls will now be distributed to hospitals and will add to the 3,87,473 PPEs already available in the country as of now.  
  • A total of 2.94 lakh PPE coveralls have been arranged and supplied so far. An order for 80 lakh complete PPE kits [including N95 masks] had been placed on a Singapore-based platform earlier and now it has been indicated that supplies will commence from April 11, 2020 with two lakh, followed by eight lakh more in a week. 

‘Final stage’ 

  • The Union Health Ministry added that negotiations are in the final stages with a Chinese platform for placing an order of 60 lakh complete PPE kits, which will also include N95 masks.  
  • Northern Railways have also developed a PPE coverall and this is in addition to the PPE coveralls and N99 masks developed by DRDO earlier.  
  • Efforts are now being made to start mass production. Existing N95 mask producers have increased their capacity to about 80,000 masks per day. 

Hydro power regulated to support lights out 

#GS3 #Electricity 

The exercise showed that the Indian grid could handle large load changes if done in a planned way 

  • The total reduction in all-India demand during the lights out at 9 p.m. on Sunday was 31,089 MW, which is more than 25% of the demand on a typical Sunday, according to the Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO).  
  • POSOCO data showed regional variations in the demand dip was 30% in the northern region, 32% in western region, 17% in the south, 39% in the east and 40% in the north-east. 

Demand variations 

  • Advance actions such as switching off transmission lines and taking reactors in service were undertaken to keep voltages and line loads within permissible limits, POSOCO said in a release, adding that the event was managed smoothly without any untoward incident. 
  • Hydro and gas-powered plants can support fast changes in load. Gas turbines can ramp up or ramp down rather quickly and, world over, they are often used to support the grid supplied with fluctuating wind power.  
  • Similarly, water can be stored in dams and reservoirs and can be released in a planned manner to achieve a sharp increase or decrease in hydro power. Coal plants have a more limited ability to handle sharp load variations. Nuclear plants even lesser. 
  • The exercise showed that the Indian grid could handle large load changes if done in a planned way.  
  • Blackouts are a different matter and typically happen unplanned. Blackouts at one place can spread to other places when power plants that are not designed to take sharp load changes are forced to take those changes.  

Online learning out of reach for many 

#GS3 #Technology 

Lockdown exacerbates consequences of digital divide for poor students and those in rural areas 

  • The quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), their fees and uniform is taken care of, but there is always some extra expense, some project or function.  
  • EWS quota students may be facing the starkest consequences of the digital divide, at a time when many schools are into some form of distance education. 

Innovating content 

  • Students in government schools and rural students without access to the slew of new education apps are also at a disadvantage. 
  • The Central and State governments have announced that lessons will be taught on television and radio, but some NGOs and educational technology firms are looking for innovations that will also bring online content into poorer homes. 

Hindi apps 

  • Central Square Foundation (CSF), which focuses on foundational literacy and numeracy for young children aged 3-8, has also created a Hindi language app aimed at low income parents, and is working with the governments of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh to launch it across those States. 
  • The organisation is also working to improve content on the Centre’s Diksha app, in association with Google.org.  
  • More than 90% of the edtech products in the market are built with middle and higher income families in mind. So even if those products are being made available for free during the lockdown, they are not contextualised for a poorer or rural audience.

Solar-powered vegetable vending vans come in handy 

#GS3 #Science&Technology #Innovation 

The hi-tech vehicles designed by IIHR are selling fresh produce in a few districts 

  • At a time when people are living under lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 threat, a solar-powered vegetable and fruits vending van designed by the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) has come in handy for them to buy fresh produce near their houses in a few districts where they are deployed by the Horticulture Department.  
  • The van is designed to keep vegetables and fruits not only dust-free and hygienic, but also fresh for two days with an evaporating cooling technology, says G. Senthil Kumaran, Principal Scientist at IIHR’s Post Harvest Technology and Agricultural Engineering Division, who designed these vans in 2017-18.  
  • The van has a facility to keep trays for storing vegetables and fruits with a cooling chamber. In the backside, it also has a LED TV for displaying the prices of the produce.  
  • The TV can also be used for disseminating social messages and crucial information to farmers on horticulture. The idea is to link farmers and consumers directly.  
  • Presently, it costs ₹ 11 lakh to ₹12 lakh for putting all these features, including the cost of the van. But the cost is bound to reduce when mass produced.  
  • The solar-powered vegetable vans designed by the IIHR have caught the attention of other States too with the Haryana government buying three such vehicles while Kerala has bought one. Haryana has also announced a subsidy on those from its State buying such vans. 

Biosafety measures in place early in State zoos 

#GS3 #WildlifeAid 

This was after reports from Hong Kong of a pet testing positive 

  • In the wake of a tiger testing positive for the novel coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, authorities in Karnataka have been on alert for over a fortnight now. 
  • All zoos in the State have had Biosafety measures in place ever since reports emerged from Hong Kong of a pet animal testing positive in March. 
  • The Zoo Authority of Karnataka (ZAK) made it mandatory for regular thermal screening of the staff, including officials, animal keepers and various suppliers, and having them go through multiple layers of safety measures such as maintaining social distance, using protective gear, including masks and gloves, and completely sanitising the premises. 

Animals being monitored 

  • The behaviour of all the animals, including carnivores and primates, is being monitored, according to Mysuru zoo executive director Ajit Kulkarni. 
  • Unlike in foreign zoos, there is no scope for visitors to get close to animals and feed them here. The animals have minimal contact with keepers and no contact with visitors. 

Up to 40% of planes may stay on ground for 12 months: CAPA 

#GS3 #Economy 

Domestic demand for air travel may fall 60% to 90 mn trips 

  • Nearly 40% of the combined fleet of Indian airlines may not take to the skies in the next 12 months as the demand for air travel is likely to remain subdued, according to aviation consultancy firm CAPA. 
  • In its latest report on the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian aviation sector, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) has forecast that the demand for domestic air travel will decline 60% to about 80-90 million trips, and for international travel it may drop 50% to approximately 35-40 million in the current fiscal as compared with the last financial year. 
  • Of the total fleet size of 650 aircraft, as many as 200-250 planes are likely to remain surplus for the next 6-12 months, CAPA noted. 

Restrictions on court hearings lawful: SC 

#GS2 #Justice&Technology 

Court invokes special powers under Article 142, says steps in tune with ‘social distancing norms’ 

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde said these restrictions were in tune with the social distancing norms and best public health practices advocated to contain the contagion. 

‘Matter of duty’ 

  • The court invoked its extraordinary constitutional powers under Article 142 to step away from the convention of open court hearings. The open court system ensures transparency in administration of justice. 
  • The court made it clear that public health takes precedence over conventions. Judiciary would have to improvise and continue to bank heavily on “videoconferencing technologies” in the wake of this “unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic”. 
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