Current Affairs Current Affairs - 17 September 2015 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 17 September 2015

General Affairs

Cabinet Clears 50 Extra Days' Work Under MGNREGA
  • Cabinet Clears 50 Extra Days' Work Under MGNREGANEW DELHI:  The central government today approved an extra 50 days of work for farmers/workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme.

    The union Cabinet, at a meeting here, decided that farmers hit by the deficient monsoon this kharif season would now get to work for a total of 150 days under MNREGA.

    The rural employment guarantee scheme earlier provided for 100 days of unskilled manual work for registered farmers.

    MNREGA, which came into effect on September 7, 2005, provides employment within 15 days of application, failing which the government provides daily unemployment allowance.

      A Made-in-India Dengue Vaccine? It Could Take 5 Years, Say Scientists
      • A Made-in-India Dengue Vaccine? It Could Take 5 Years, Say ScientistsNEW DELHI:  An Indian laboratory's promising discovery of dengue vaccine molecules has raised hopes for a new vaccine against the dreaded virus.

        Indian scientists reported a breakthrough a few weeks ago and the vaccine is now being tested on monkeys. The scientists say it will take time to get to the human trials stage and if everything works to plan, a made-in-India dengue vaccine could be available in five years from now.  

        "Yes, we definitely have a working candidate vaccine for dengue with us. For me, developing a dengue vaccine for India is like putting a man on the moon, it is of that importance," said Dr Navin Khanna, dengue researcher at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi.  

        The Centre plans a larger vaccine trial on monkeys in America; the full-fledged human trial after that could cost more than Rs. 100 crore.

        National capital Delhi is in the grip of its worst Dengue outbreak in five years.

        Work on the Indian dengue vaccine started five years ago with an investment of eight crore. The development was largely kept secret and the team procured an international patent only last month. 

        "The Indian vaccine initiative is at a very nascent stage, we are trying to develop one in the lab," Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said.

        National capital Delhi is in the grip of its worst Dengue outbreak in five years; 11 people have died and more than 1,800 cases have been reported. There are also reports of dengue in other states.

        Developing a vaccine against Dengue has not proved easy as there are four different strains of the virus. In Delhi dengue strain 2 and 4 have been reported in the current outbreak and doctors say fortunately, no new strain of the virus has struck this time.

        Dengue spreads through infected Aedes or the tiger mosquitoes biting humans. Most patients recover and on a minuscule number die from dengue.

        There are many viral diseases against which vaccines exist the best known is the polio virus which has now been eliminated from India.

      Robert Vadra's 'No Frisking' Privileges at Airports Withdrawn
      • Robert Vadra's 'No Frisking' Privileges at Airports WithdrawnNEW DELHI:  Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, will no longer be spared security checks at airports. The government has withdrawn Mr Vadra's no-frisking privileges, which had generated much controversy and debate.

        "Fantastic. I am happy with what they have done," was Mr Vadra's first response after the aviation ministry's orders.

        He later went on Facebook to comment: "I appreciate that my name will not appear in the VVIP list anymore. I hope this is a dead issue now and will not be used against me."

        Two days ago, Mr Vadra had used another Facebook post to convey that he wanted to be off the list of VIPs exempt from frisking at airports.

        "Plans to visit every terminal in the Airports in India and add a white tape on my name from the VVIP list and my signature on top !! So look out ...." Mr Vadra posted.

        The no-frisking privilege is granted to constitutional figures and those who have elite Special Protection Group (SPG) cover, including Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi - the two top leaders of the Congress party - and her daughter Priyanka Vadra, who is married to Robert Vadra. They are spared the security checks that every other passenger has to go through at the airport.

        Mr Vadra, a businessman, has been repeatedly targeted by the ruling BJP over controversial land deals and was accused of abusing VIP security privileges granted to his wife.

        Mahesh Sharma, the Minister of State for Civil Aviation, said: "The previous government gave Mr Vadra the facility only for when he was travelling with an SPG protectee, now he has himself asked to be removed from the list."

        After the government last week said there were no plans to remove his name from the VIP list, Mr Vadra alleged a "conspiracy to malign his image."

        "Maybe I need to personally go to every airport and delete my name. Will that work? Or is it a part of a larger conspiracy to malign my image? I am humble and as normal as any citizen. So please treat me like one," Mr Vadra posted.

      Indian-American Scientist Uses Sound Waves to Control Brain Cells
      • Indian-American Scientist Uses Sound Waves to Control Brain CellsWASHINGTON:  In a first, an Indian American researcher from Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California has developed a new way to selectively activate brain, heart, muscle and other cells using ultrasonic sound waves.

        Dubbed as sonogenetics, the new technique has some similarities to the burgeoning use of light to activate cells in order to better understand the brain.

        Â"Light-based techniques are great for some uses. But this is a new, additional tool to manipulate neurons and other cells in the body,Â" informed ," Sreekanth Chalasani, assistant professor in Salk's molecular neurobiology laboratory.

        The new method - which uses the same type of waves used in medical sonograms - may have advantages over the light-based approach - known as optogenetics - particularly when it comes to adapting the technology to human therapeutics.

        In optogenetics, researchers add light-sensitive channel proteins to neurons they wish to study.

        By shining a focused laser on the cells, they can selectively open these channels, either activating or silencing the target neurons.

        Chalasani and his group decided to see if they could develop an approach that instead relied on ultrasound waves for the activation.

        Â"In contrast to light, low-frequency ultrasound can travel through the body without any scattering," he noted.

        Â"This could be a big advantage when you want to stimulate a region deep in the brain without affecting other regions,Â" adds Stuart Ibsen, post-doctoral fellow in the Chalasani lab.

        So far, sonogenetics has only been applied to C. elegans neurons.

        Â"The real prize will be to see whether this could work in a mammalian brain," Chalasani pointed out.

        His group has already begun testing the approach in mice.

        Â"When we make the leap into therapies for humans, I think we have a better shot with noninvasive sonogenetics approaches than with optogenetics,Â" he emphasised in a paper appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

        Chalasani obtained his PhD from University of Pennsylvania. He then did his post-doctoral research in the laboratory of Dr Cori Bargmann at the Rockefeller University in New York.

      Earth's Gravitational Pull Shrinking the Moon: NASA

      • Earth's Gravitational Pull Shrinking the Moon: NASAWASHINGTON:  Earth's gravity has influenced the orientation of thousands of faults that form in the lunar surface as the Moon shrinks, NASA has revealed.

        After more than six years in orbit, the US space agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has imaged nearly three-fourths of the lunar surface at high resolution, allowing the discovery of over 3,000 faults.

        These globally distributed faults have emerged as the most common tectonic landform on the moon.

        An analysis of the orientations of these small scarps yielded a surprising result.

        The faults, created as the moon shrinks, are being influenced by an unexpected source -- gravitational tidal forces from Earth.

        Global contraction alone should generate an array of thrust faults with no particular pattern in the orientations of the faults, because the contracting forces have equal magnitude in all directions.

        "But there is a pattern in the orientations of the thousands of faults and it suggests something else is influencing their formation, something that is also acting on a global scale -- 'massaging' and realigning them," explained Smithsonian senior scientist Thomas Watters from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

        The gravitational forces the Moon and Sun exert are responsible for Earth's rising and falling tides. Similarly, Earth's gravity also exerts forces on the Moon in the form of solid body tides that distort its shape.

        The Moon is slowly receding away from Earth and forces build as the Moon's tidal distortion diminishes with distance and its rotation period slows with time.

        The fault scarps are very young -- so young that they are likely still actively forming today.

        The team's modeling shows that the peak stresses are reached when the moon is farthest from Earth in its orbit.

        If the faults are still active, the occurrence of shallow moonquakes related to slip events on the faults may be most frequent when the moon is at apogee.

        This hypothesis can be tested with a long-lived lunar seismic network.

        "The LRO data set enables us to tease out subtle but important processes that would otherwise remain hidden," noted John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, in a paper published in the journal Geology.

        Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the moon.

      Business Affairs 

      Sensex closes 258 points higher amid global cues
      • Sensex closes 258 points higher amid global cuesThe benchmark Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex closed over 258 points higher on a flurry of buying by investors amid a firming trend overseas ahead of the Fed's rate decision this week.
        The 30-share index rose 258.04 points, or 1 per cent, to close at 25,963.97. The gauge had retreated from a two-week high by losing 150.77 points in the previous trading session.
        On similar lines, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) Nifty closed 70.05 points or 0.89 per cent higher at Rs 7,899.15.
        Sentiment was upbeat as investors widened bets tracking a firming trend at other Asian bourses, with Shanghai stocks closing up 4.89 per cent, as investors returned to the market amid speculation of state-led buying, brokers said.
        Besides, a higher opening at European markets ahead of the crucial two-day Federal Reserve's meet starting today, buoyed sentiment, they added.
        Bharti Airtel emerged as the top gainer on Sensex as the shares closed 2.48 per cent higher at Rs 359.10 apiece. BHEL was the top loser.
        Other prominent gainers were Bajaj Auto, Axis Bank, Sun Pharma, Vedanta and Wipro. Globally, the Shanghai Composite index closed 4.89 per cent higher and Hong Kong's Hang Seng surged 2.71 per cent while Japan's Nikkei ended 0.81 per cent. European markets were also in the positive territory in early trade.

      Markets eye US Federal Reserve's decision for near-term fortunes
      • Markets eye US Fed's decision for near-term fortunesThe US Federal Reserve's upcoming decision to hike or hold interest rates will play a crucial role in determining the trajectory of not just the countries' equities and currency markets, but also of the business confidence in the world's largest economy, experts maintain.
        "The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) outcome, if on a generally expected lines of a no rate hike, would lead to a temporary relief-rally in anticipation of our own policy rate cuts. But, uncertainty will persist," said Devendra Nevgi, chief executive of ZyFin Advisors. "But, even a hike overseas would indicate strength in US economy and largely positive for global and emerging markets (EMs) growth in the long run," Nevgi told IANS, referring to the policy reviews by the US on Thursday and by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on September 29.
        The FOMC is an arm of the Federal Reserve that sets the direction of the US monetary policy.
        According to analysts, a hike in interest rates which have been at near-zero levels since the last decade by the US Federal Reserve also known as the US Fed will send shock waves across the world's capital markets.
        A rate hike could potentially lead to massive amounts of pull-back of foreign funds from the emerging nations like India. US Dollar will strengthen against their currencies, gold and other assets, they added.
        High interest rates in the US are expected to wean away foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) from the country. It is also expected to dent business margins as access to capital from the US will become expensive. Foreign funds have sold around $3 billion, mostly in Indian equities since August.
        "If the Fed goes ahead with a rate cut this week, we expect some foreign funds outflow in the short term, leading to some volatility and downside from current levels," Vaibhav Agrawal, vice president, research, Angel Broking, told IANS.
        This view was expressed by nearly all the market observers that IANS spoke to on the rate hike. "The markets will fall immediately. There will be global bearishness and India will be impacted by it," Gaurav Jain, director with Hem Securities, explained.
        On the rupee front, if a hike takes place then a free fall is not being ruled-out. Though the RBI is expected to intervene and arrest the fall.
        "If a hike does happen, then the rupee may react bearishly, possibly leading to a new low," said Hiren Sharma, senior vice president, currency advisory at Anand Rathi Financial Services.  Analysts have predicted swings of between 65.20-67.10 to a dollar.
        On September 7, the Indian currency had closed at 66.82 to a dollar, its lowest levels against the US dollar in over two years. As far as the equities market is concerned, since the peak of 30,024.74 points on March 3, the key sensitive index (Sensex) of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE ) has lost nearly 17 per cent at 25,705.93 points.
        Analysys said a hike, on the other hand, will show that the US Fed is confident of the economy's ability to start generating growth and employment.
        "It (a hike) would indicate that the US economy remains on a strong footing, which would also be positive. So we will advise our investors to buy during corrections from a long term point of view," Agarwal said.
        Anand James, co-head, technical research desk with Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services, told IANS that: "The stance taken by the FOMC could also be a verdict on how prepared it feels the US is to weather the global slowdown, and by extension, what the EMs can look forward to."
        The previous data on jobs, house sales and factory output has been evident of a rebound in the US economy. However, data furnished by the US Bureau of Labour, the total non-farm payroll employment has increased by 173,000 in August from July's job gains of up to 245,000.
        The growth in the US economy is important given the slowdown in the Europe and what some observers term as the start of a "Made in China" world recession.
        As per Anindya Banerjee, associate vice president for currency derivatives with Kotak Securities, a lot of cues will also eminate out of the language or future outlook being given by the US Fed.
        "More important is the language that the Fed is going to use. A dovish one will support a long sustaining recovery," Banerjee told IANS. "However, a hawkish outlook will heighten the chances of a rate hike in December," Banerjee said.
        The silver lining on the cloudy horizon is the hope that the US Fed will maintain interest rates accompanied with a fairly dovish outlook. This, said market observers, will spur the recovery in both equity and currency markets.
        "The recovery, if it happens will be really strong," Banerjee said. "The rupee can recover to 64-levels. Equities too will see a sustained recovery."

          S&P downgrades Amtek Global on liquidity risks at parent firm
          • S&P downgrades Amtek Global on liquidity risks at parent firmStandard & Poor's has cut the long-term credit rating of Amtek Global, reflecting the 'heightened liquidity risks' at its parent company Amtek Auto, which might default on loan obligations.
            "The downgrade reflects heightened liquidity risks at India-based parent company Amtek Auto. We see a risk that Amtek Auto may not have sufficient liquidity to meet its interest or debt obligations, which could lead to a default at Amtek Auto, or a debt restructuring," S&P Rating Services said in a statement. Automobiles component maker Amtek Auto, which is grappling with financial stress, has cited the current market scenario "which caused decline in the sales and profit margins of the company", for the present situation.
            Singapore-based Amtek Global Technologies' long-term corporate credit ratings has been cut to 'CCC+' from 'B+', indicating increased credit risks.
            Besides, S&P has lowered the issue ratings on Amtek Global's 235 million euro senior secured term loan and 30 million euro revolving credit facility (RCF).
            "The heightened liquidity risks follow spending on acquisitions by Amtek Auto, coupled with high short-term debt and low cash balances as of March 31, 2015, as well as an increase in losses during the three months to June 30, 2015," the rating agency noted.
            Amtek Global has shown higher debt and weaker-than-expected leverage, it added.
            "We also see far weaker cash flow generation, with negative free operating cash flow (FOCF) of around 29 million euro for the nine months to March 31, 2015," S&P said.
            As on March end this year, Amtek Global had cash balances of about 42 million euro, against short-term debt maturities of 49 million euro, it added.
            Even as Amtek Auto is looking to raise funds, concerns have been on the rise about its financial condition which has also created ripples in the mutual funds industry.
            Amtek Auto has also come under the Sebi scanner for alleged share price manipulation at its subsidiary Castex Technologies.
            Amtek Auto shares closed 5.23 per cent down at Rs 49.85 apiece on the BSE.

          World Bank warns emerging economies of big capital outflow
          • World Bank warns emerging economies of big capital outflowThe World Bank warned of the risk of a large decline in capital flows to emerging economies in the upcoming US monetary policy tightening cycle.
            If the tightening cycle were accompanied by a surge in US long-term yields, as happened during the taper tantrum in 2013, the reduction in capital flows to emerging economies could be substantial, Xinhua cited a new research paper released by the World Bank ahead of this week's US Federal Reserve meeting to discuss whether to raise interest rates. Its research shows a 100 basis point jump in US long-term yields, as occurred during the taper tantrum, could temporarily reduce aggregate capital flows to the emerging markets by up to 2.2 percentage points of their combined gross domestic product (GDP).
            Although the paper expected the tightening cycle might be smooth, it still runs a risk of being associated with market volatility, in view of the global economy that is adjusted to weakening growth prospects, slowing international trade and persistently lower commodities prices.
            "Risk are compounded by recent spikes in volatility in global financial markets and deteriorating growth prospects in developing economies," said Ayhan Kose, director of the World Bank's Development Prospects Group.
            "An abrupt change in risk appetite for emerging market assets could become contagious and affect capital flows to many countries," Kose said.

            Hewlett-Packard Co to cut up to 30,000 more jobs in enterprise business
            • HP to cut up to 30K more jobs in enterprise bizHewlett-Packard Co, which is splitting into two listed companies later this year, said on Tuesday it expects to cut another 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in its enterprise business as the tech pioneer adjusts to falling demand.
              The latest cuts, on top of layoffs of 55,000 workers previously announced under Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, notably will be in the company's faster-growing corporate hardware and services operations, to be spun off as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, or HPE, on November 1. The latest job cuts indicate a reduction of the company's total workforce by at least 10 per cent, based on the company's most recent number of more than 300,000 employees as of October 31, 2014, and reflecting the previously announced reduction of 55,000.
              The company indicated the cuts will be global, but provided no specifics.
              Under the split into two companies, the other company, HP Inc, will comprise the computer and printer businesses, which have been hit hard by a relentless decline in sales of personal computers.
              "We've done a significant amount of work over the past few years to take costs out and simplify processes and these final actions will eliminate the need for any future corporate restructuring," Whitman said in a statement.
              The job cuts, aimed at saving $2.7 billion a year, will result in a charge of about $2.7 billion, beginning in the fourth quarter, HP said.

              Job cuts have become a way of life at the company in recent years as it has digested a series of acquisitions that failed to revive its fortunes.
              "The number is sadly larger than some people might have expected, but I think it's a reflection of how much trouble HP has been having with its services," said Charles King, president and principal analyst of Pund-IT, a Silicon Valley IT consulting firm.
              Hewlett-Packard's chief financial officer, Cathie Lesjak, said last month that HP expected the previously announced job cuts of 55,000 under Whitman to increase by up to 5 per cent by the end of October.
              "I'm frankly not sure if HP is finished with the layoffs," King said, saying he expects the job cuts and the shuffling of people and positions to continue well into 2016.

              HP said it is moving more of its workers to lower-cost locations as part of its efforts to cut costs. In its 2013 fiscal year, the company said 36 per cent of the employees in the unit of HPE called enterprise services worked in what it called low-cost locations. This year 42 per cent do, and executives said they plan to increase that percentage to 60 per cent by 2018.
              In its fiscal third quarter ended July 31, HP's revenue from personal computer and printer businesses, its largest, fell 11.5 per cent.
              Of the units to be housed in HPE, which will be run by Whitman, sales in enterprise services dropped 11 per cent, while revenue at the enterprise group rose 2 per cent.
              HPE will have revenue of more than $50 billion, and is expected to report adjusted profit of $1.85 to $1.95 per share in 2016, HP said on Tuesday.

              The business is expected to report free cash flow of $2.0 billion to $2.2 billion in 2016, at least half of which is expected to be returned through dividends and share buybacks.
              HP shares fell 1.4 per cent to $26.73 in extended trading on Tuesday after the news.

                General Awareness

                SEBI notified Revised Listing Regulations, 2015

                  • Capital market regulator The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has notified SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 which amended listing regulations that allow listed companies to seek shareholders’ approval for related party deals through ordinary resolutions.
                    As per the notification, a time period of ninety days has been given for implementing the Regulations.  However, two provisions of the regulations in the revised rules, which are facilitating in nature, are applicable with immediate effect.
                    Highlights of the Listing Regulations:
                    • The Regulations, 2015 (Listing Regulations) have been divided into two parts. They are –
                    1. Substantive provisions incorporated in the main body of regulations and
                    2. Procedural requirements in the form of schedules to the regulations.
                    • The two provisions which came into effect immediately are –
                    1. The first one belongs to passing of ordinary resolution instead of special resolution in the case of all material related party transactions subject to related parties abstaining from voting on such resolutions, in line with the provisions of theCompanies Act, 2013.
                    2. Another one relates to re-classification of promoters as public shareholders under various circumstances.
                    • The latest set of norms also provides broad principles for periodic disclosures by listed entities, apart from incorporating corporate governance principles.
                    • A shortened version of the listing agreement would be prescribed and has to be signed by the company. Furthermore, existing listed entities will be required to sign the same within six months of the notification of the regulations.
                    • All disclosures required to be made on the website of the listed entity have been enumerated at a single place for ease of reference and all requirements pertaining to disclosures in the annual report have been combined.
                    • Obligations which are applicable to specific types of securities have been incorporated in separate chapters.
                    • Stock exchanges will be responsible in ensuring companies comply with the listing obligations, and in the case of non-compliance, action can be taken against the entities.
                    The regulations have been structured to provide ease of reference by consolidating into one single document across various types of securities listed on the stock exchanges. This would further streamline the provisions of existing listing agreements for different segments of the capital market namely equity, including convertibles bonds, issued by entities listed on the main board of the stock exchanges, small and medium enterprises listed on SME Exchange and Institutional Trading Platform, non-convertible debt securities, non-convertible redeemable preference shares, Indian depository receipts, securitized debt Instruments and units issued by mutual fund schemes.

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