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Current Affairs - 23 August 2015

General Affairs

The Talks That Weren't. India-Pak Freeze in Simmering August
  • The Talks That Weren't. India-Pak Freeze in Simmering AugustNEW DELHI:  Hours before crucial talks were meant to begin in Delhi, Pakistan has announced that it cannot meet the two terms India said were non-negotiable. The much-anticipated talks between the National Security Advisors of the two countries stands cancelled.

    The Pakistan government said in a statement that it has "carefully analysed the contents" of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's press conference today and that, "We have come to the conclusion that the proposed NSA level talks between the two countries would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by the Minister."

    Ms Swaraj had set a midnight deadline for Pakistan to accept that Kashmir would not be part of the agenda of the talks, and that Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani NSA would not meet Kashmiri separatists in Delhi. "They are welcome to come," she said, provided Pakistan declared it would comply.

    She rejected Pakistan's allegations of India imposing "preconditions" to force Islamabad to cancel the conference.

    "It is not improbable that India can delay the Resumed Dialogue indefinitely by concocting one or two incidents and keeping the LoC hot," Islamabad alleged, adding, "the scheduled NSA level talks cannot be held on the basis of the preconditions set by India."

    Mr Aziz was meant to meet with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval tomorrow and on Monday, the result of an unexpected agreement reached by Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of a summit in Ufa, Russia, last month.

    Ms Swaraj said the contours decided at Ufa clearly restricted the talks to terrorism and nothing else.

    Last year, India cancelled talks between Foreign Secretaries after Pakistan consulted with Kashmiri separatists.

    The Ufa initiative had brought hope of re-engagement after a period that saw sharply escalated tension along the border in Jammu and Kashmir. But as the talks got closer, they appeared increasingly untenable, with both sides exchanging fierce recriminations.

    Ms Swaraj said today that Pakistan has violated the ceasefire along the line of control 91 times since the Ufa meeting. There were terror attacks in Punjab and Udhampur, where a Pakistani terrorist was captured and has given information that India would have handed over at the NSA meet.

    Pakistan had said it would highlight India's alleged instigation of insurgency in its roiling Balochistan region.

India Not 'Running Away' From Talks, Says Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj
  • Two Assurances Needed by Midnight: India Gives Pakistan a DeadlineNEW DELHI:  Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has given Pakistan a midnight deadline tonight, to assure India that it will not meet the separatist Hurriyat conference and will restrict the agenda of the NSA talks on Monday only to terrorism. Mrs Swaraj addressed a press conference just hours after Pakistan's NSA Sartaj Aziz said he was ready to travel to India for talks, but without any pre-conditions.

    Mrs Swaraj said talks would be called off if Pakistan did not agree to the terms set by India. She said "there will be no talks," when asked what would happen if Pakistan did not accept the position outlined by her. She said these were not pre-conditions.

    She said "India is not running away from talks. We want to talk on terror. We wanted to create an environment where we could have a resumed dialogue later on all issues but only when terror stops first. Now they are expanding the agenda, then inviting Hurriyat. What about the Shimla agreement? It's a bilateral matter, there is no room for a third party."

    Earlier in his press conference in Islamabad, Mr Aziz said "it is India that has imposed new conditions that Pakistan cannot meet Hurriyat leaders, assuming the right to determine the guest list of for the High Commissioner's reception".

    He threw the ball back in India's court and said he was ready to come but with no conditions attached.

Government Moves to Check Rising Onion Prices, But People Still Feel the Pinch
  • Government Moves to Check Rising Onion Prices, But People Still Feel the PinchNEW DELHI:  As onion prices skyrocket in markets across India, the central government has decided to import the vegetable and has floated a tender for 10,000 metric tonnes which will open on August 27.

    To increase the availability of onions in domestic market the government has also decided to raise the Minimum Export Price (MEP) of onions further to $700 per metric tonne from the previous $425.

    MEP is the rate below which no exports are allowed. The rise in MEP restricts exports and improves domestic supply.

    Onion prices have risen unabated in the past few weeks. Wholesale onion prices today touched Rs. 57/kg at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra, Asia's biggest onion market. In Delhi retail prices shot up to Rs. 75-80/kg and in Mumbai to Rs. 65/ kg.

    Until a few weeks ago Saroj, resident of South Delhi used to buy 4 kg of onions for her family of six but with spiraling prices, she can now buy only half of it. She also travels to the Mandi (wholesale market) instead of buying from the neighbourhood vendors in the hope to save some money.

    The Delhi AAP government has set up fair price shops and mobile vans to sell the vegetable at a subsidised rate. But these stalls often run out of stock leaving many people waiting empty handed in long queues.

    "Prices of onions have been rising on account of a decline in total production from 189.23 lakh tonnes in 2014-15 as against 194.02 lakh tonnes in 2013-14 i.e. a decrease of 4.79 lakh tonnes," the Consumer Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

    The shortfall has primarily been on account of adverse weather conditions, including unseasonal rains which have impacted both the standing and harvested crop at major producing centres, it added.

    Onion exports fell to 10.86 lakh tonnes in 2014-15, from 13.58 lakh tonnes in the previous year.

    The Consumer Affairs Secretary will on Monday take stock of the situation with agencies SFAC, NAFED, MMTC and the Delhi government.

7 Killed As Fighter Jet Crashes Into Highway In UK During Air Show
  • SUSSEX: Thousands of spectators watched in horror as a Hawker Hunter airplane crashed into a busy road after a stunt went wrong at an air show in Sussex in southeast England today.

    At least seven people are feared dead as the 1950s fighter jet taking part in the Shoreham air show crashed into traffic, media reports said.

    The pilot, however, was pulled from the burning wreckage and is now recovering in hospital, a Daily Mail report said.

    The dramatic video showed the aircraft make a loop-the-loop stunt and then crash into the highway, exploding in a 'massive fireball'.

Business Affairs 

Reliance Industries says payments bank licence to leverage telecom, retail businesses
  • RIL chairman Mukesh AmbaniRIL said on Friday the payments bank licence will "leverage" its telecom business Reliance Jio's pan-India network and retail arm's model, even as its tie-up with SBI will help create the most extensive distribution network in India.
    State Bank of India (SBI), the nation's largest lender, will hold up to 30 per cent stake in the non-lending payments bank of Reliance Industries.RIL said it has on August 19 received an "in-principle" approval of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to set up a payments bank. "RIL and SBI had applied for the Payments Bank licence, with RIL as the promoter and SBI as the joint venture partner with equity investment up to 30 per cent," the company said in a statement.
    Payments bank licence will allow companies to collect deposits (initially up to Rs 1 lakh per individual), offer Internet banking, facilitate money transfers and sell insurance and mutual funds.
    Besides, they can issue ATM/debit cards, but not credit cards. RIL was among 11 entities that were granted in-principal approval by RBI for starting Payments Bank.
    In conjunction, RIL is looking to launch JioMoney, a prepaid payment instrument to facilitate cashless payments across multiple-use cases and build India's largest digital merchant network.
    "The Payments Bank formation will deliver all digital banking products and services and co-create an ecosystem to digitise payments (and) promote massive adoption of digital transactions by offering convenience, simplicity and low cost access," it said.
    RIL Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani said the partnership with SBI will enhance "product capabilities, create the most extensive distribution network in India and drive mass scale digital payments and banking adoption, through an 'easy to use' experience driven by technology."
    The payments bank, which has not yet been named, will "leverage Reliance Jio's pan-India telecom network and Reliance Retail's online and offline business model, to promote the digital ecosystem among all sections of the society across the country," he said.
    Reliance Jio is RIL's telecom arm which is to start commercial operations by year end.
    SBI Chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya said, "RIL and SBI, in a 'first-of-its-kind' Public-Private partnership (PPP) have joined on a mission to make India's financial services 'digitally smart'."
    The bank's vast experience in structuring financial products for different customer segments will be combined with the digital access provided by RIL in completing the most efficient, simple and affordable delivery model with utmost focus on financial inclusion, she said.
    "The payments bank is integral to RIL's digital initiative in a rapidly converging world of telecom, internet, commerce, media and financial services. This is one of our many initiatives to contribute meaningfully to the government of India's ambitious Digital India programme," Ambani said.

Monsoon deficiency falls to 9%
  • Monsoon deficiency falls to 9%Monsoon deficiency has been recorded in all the four divisions of the country - East and Northeast, Southern peninsula, Central India and Northwest, triggering fears of drought in some parts.
    While the eastern parts have been getting heavy rainfall for the last three-four days, leading to a flood-like situation in many states, parts of central and southern India have recorded between 30 and 46 per cent rainfall deficiency.
    The overall monsoon deficiency in the country has come down to nine per cent.
    East and northeast India has recorded seven per cent deficiency as of today.
    North-west India, which has witnessed a better monsoon this season, has seen deficiency by a per cent.
    The situation, is however, deteriorating in Central India and Southern Peninsula which has recorded deficiency of 10 and 20 per cent, respectively.
    In Maharashtra, the Marathwada region, central part of the state, and the coastal belt of Konkan and Goa have registered deficiency of 46, 36 and 32 per cent respectively.
    Deficiency in north interior Karnataka and Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh has recorded deficiency of 32 and 44, respectively.
    The India Meteorological Department has already predicted a "deficient monsoon" of around 12 per cent.
    Of the season so far, June witnessed 16 per cent more rainfall while July received minus 17 per cent of precipitation. August is also expected to register deficiency of 10 per cent.
    From June 1 till date, the country has received 573 mm of rainfall as compared to the normal limit of 631 mm.

    HC asks Delhi govt not to act on audit reports on discoms
    • HC asks Delhi govt not to act on audit reports on discomsThe Delhi High Court on Friday asked the Arvind Kejriwal government not to take any action against power distribution companies in the national capital on the basis of interim audit reports. The court also fixed September 11 as the next date for hearing.
      A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice R S Endlaw also sought responses from the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and the Delhi government on a plea seeking restraint by the Delhi government in taking action on the said reports.
      The plea was filed by two distribution companies - BSES Rajdhani and BSES Yamuna.
      The third company distributing power in the capital, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd (TPDDL), said while it has received a copy of the audit report, it was pained at media reports making allegations purportedly based on leaked documents.
      "The copy of the draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which TPDDL has received recently is marked 'Secret and Confidential' and specifically instructs TPDDL not to reveal any contents," the company said in a statement.
      "TPDDL feels deeply constrained in being required to follow these instructions thereby not being able to respond to prejudicial interpretations and allegations drawn from an obviously leaked draft report," it said.
      "The issued identified in the draft report are being clarified and appropriately responded by TPDDL to the CAG while maintaining strict confidentiality. As such, TPDDL's response cannot be shared in public domain."
      The two BSES companies had reacted sharply to the developments on Thursday.
      "We are shocked at the highly irresponsible, factually incorrect, mischievous and distorted reporting in a section of the media on a purported CAG audit report on the Delhi discoms," the spokesperson for two of the companies had said in a statement.
      "These media reports tantamount to blatant contempt of the order of the Hon'ble Delhi High Court, which has put a blanket prohibition on publication of any CAG audit report as the matter is sub judice," the statement said.
      It also said the audit process was not completed and it would be premature to allege that the some adverse conclusions had been arrived at. It said the two companies will respond to the observations, as and when called upon to do so by the official auditor.

    Payment banks unlikely to eat into large lenders' biz: Crisil
    • Payment banks unlikely to eat into large lenders' biz: CrisilRatings agency Crisil said on Friday the upcoming payment banks will largely focus on the underbanked areas like the East, Northeast and Central regions, and the existing lenders should not worry about them.
      "We do not expect them to significantly dent the business of existing banks given that their services would largely focus on the underbanked areas," its chief analytical officer Pawan Agrawal said in a note two days after the Reserve Bank issued licences to 11 such players.

      The agency added existing banks stand to benefit out of a partnership with a payment bank through increased access to unbanked and underbanked areas in a cost-efficient manner.
      Citing its proprietary data, which point to under penetration, the agency said pockets in the East, Northeast and the Central regions stand to gain the most from the new banks.
      In one more step towards the era of differentiated banking or having specialised banks, the RBI had on Wednesday accorded in-principle approvals to 11 out 41 aspirants to start payment banks, including entities led by industrialists Mukesh Ambani, Kumarmangalam Birla, Sunil Mittal and Dilip Shanghvi, Anand Mahindra among others apart from the Department of Posts.
      Higher volume of transactions, nimble but technologically superior cost structure and ability to generate fee income will be the key points for the business model of a payment bank, the agency said.
      Fees from domestic remittances, spread on savings deposits, fees from acting as business correspondents and transaction fees through e-commerce and debit card usage are the specific revenue streams, it said.
      "Even if payments banks are able to gather around 10 per cent of rural savings deposits from areas that have banks, and from unbanked areas served by chit funds and other non-banking channels, the opportunity to attract savings deposits will be in excess of Rs 1 trillion over the next five years," its business head,large corporates, Raman Uberoi said.
      The commentary comes even as the largest lender State Bank has flagged concerns over the entry of PBs, which had to be quickly allayed by the Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan.

    Mittu Chandilya now AirAsia India's MD in addition to being CEO
    • Mittu Chandilya now AirAsia India's MD in addition to being CEOBudget carrier AirAsia India has appointed Mittu Chandilya as its Managing Director, which will be in addition to his current CEO role.
      Now, Chandilya, who has been serving as CEO since the inception of the no-frills airline, would be part of the board.In a statement on Thursday, the carrier said its board has appointed Chandilya as MD and the first full time Independent Executive Director of the company.
      The move is part of a major management restructuring exercise being undertaken at the low cost carrier.
      "He has managed to propel the airline forward in terms of its scale of operations and turn every challenge into an opportunity by building an agile and secure operations structure," AirAsia India's Chairman S Ramadorai said.
      The entity is a three-way joint venture in which AirAsia Berhard owns 49%, Tata Sons has 30% and the rest is with Arun Bhatia's Telestra Tradeplace.
      AirAsia's Group CEO Tony Fernandes said that Chandilya has done an exemplary job leading AirAsia India in a market where it has been challenged with headwinds at every turn.
      "There is tremendous opportunity for growth and we are in an excellent position to capitalise on the opportunity with our strong brand and value proposition. We are not ones to give up easily...," Fernandes noted.
      Currently, Fernandes,Ramadorai, Bharat Vasani, R Venkataramanan and Arun Bhatia are on AirAsia India's board.
      In the three months ended March 2015, AirAsia India posted a loss of Rs 19 crore while revenues stood at Rs 74.39 crore.
      The airline had carried nearly 2,38,000 passengers contributing a revenue of Rs 3,131 per passenger during the March quarter. Ancillary income per passenger was at Rs 248 while the seat load factor was 79%. 

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