Current Affairs November 2015 - Vikalp Education

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Current Affairs - 30 November 2015

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General Affairs

India May Spend $95 Billion on Railways over 5 Years: Morgan Stanley
  • India May Spend $95 Billion on Railways over 5 Years: Morgan StanleyNEW DELHI:  India is expected to spend a whopping $95 billion (over Rs. 6.34 lakh crore) on ramping up its rail infrastructure, a step that will help in increasing the country's manufacturing competitiveness, a report says.

    The Indian Railways suffered in the past due to "underinvestment and poor policies", said foreign broking firm Morgan Stanley's research arm in its recent report.

    Morgan Stanley Research's Industrial Analyst Akshay Soni, who authored the report, believes that the "historical lack of delivery in the Railways creates scepticism, but this time could be different".

    Mr Soni estimated that India will spend $95 billion on railway over the next 5 years, which would result in 12 per cent GDP growth between 2014-15 to 2018-19.

    "Of course, the ensuing productivity gains will improve India's manufacturing competitiveness and the lower CO2 emissions on freight would help India meet its 2030 emission targets," it added.

    The report also sees inventory cost gains for Corporate India.

    It's clear that the railways is the answer to solving India's transport infrastructure challenges.

    According to World Bank estimates, India's logistics costs (at around 10-14 per cent of sales) are 2-3 times the best practice benchmark costs, which hurts India's manufacturing competitiveness, it added.

    "We believe the key reason for this is underinvestment in the Indian Railways -- with budget allocation versus roads significantly lower than global standards," it said.

    "Rail is a cheaper mode of transport than roads (by 20 per cent), yet the share of roads (at 57 per cent) in Indian freight movement is more than 1.5 times that of the Railways, owing to congestion on rail network and poor policies."

    The report cited three key reasons behind the massive decline in the share of the Railways in transporting Indian freight and to some extent, passengers.

    Budget allocation in rail, at just 20 per cent of roads, is significantly lower than global standards and over 60 per cent of the Railways' funds are being allocated to projects with a negative rate of return, it added.

    Passenger fares remain another sticky area. "Passenger fares have moved up just 28 per cent over the last decade versus a 91 per cent increase in freight rates, with passenger losses being compensated by squeezing freight customers. This has resulted in both freight moving over to road and choking internal generation of funds," the report found out.

    Commending Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu's role, the brokerage arm said his focus is on increasing speed of trains rather than burdening an already creaking network and he is taking an "innovative approach to funding".

Fight Against Climate Change is Responsibility of All: PM Modi
  • Fight Against Climate Change is Responsibility of All: PM ModiNEW DELHI:  Preparing to attend the world meet on climate change in Paris tomorrow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said it is the responsibility of all to ensure that the Earth's temperature does not rise as global warming is already creating disasters like recent heavy rainfall in Chennai.

    He asked the people to adopt energy conservation and energy efficiency measures like the maximum use of solar-powered items.

    In his monthly radio programme 'Mann Ki Baat', Prime Minister Modi recalled his proposal for setting up a SAARC disaster response mechanism and said the recently-held 'table talk exercise and best practices seminar' in Delhi was a good beginning in this regard.

    "We keep receiving news about the natural disasters from every corner of the world. Such are the tragedies which have never been heard earlier or imagined. We are now experiencing the impact of fast-changing climate. In our own country, massive rains recently hit Tamil Nadu and caused losses to it as well as other states. Several people lost their lives. I offer my condolences to them," he said.

    "The whole world is worried about climate change. There are discussions everywhere over it and concerns are being expressed. There is acceptance for it (climate change) as an index before any work is done. The temperature of the Earth should not increase now. It is the responsibility and concern of all," he said in his 20-minute programme.

    His emphasis on the responsibility of all assumes significance as the developed world is placing greater onus on developing nations like India in the fight against climate change.

    India has been maintaining that the developed countries have been the major polluters over centuries and should assume greater role in fighting global warming by funding and transfering low-cost technology to developing nations.

    The Prime Minister asked people to adopt measures for energy conservation and energy efficiency so that global warming is avoided.

    The government is running a number of schemes, like LED bulbs, PM Modi said, asking people to take advantage of these.

    Giving examples of how some common people are contributing in their own way, he cited the case of one Noor Jehan of Kanpur who is apparently not much educated but has set up a factory of solar 'lalteins' (lamps).

    These 'lalteins' are rented out to about 500 households for Rs 100 each per month while the charging costs about Rs 3-4 daily, he said.

    Hailing Noor Jehan, PM Modi said she is working as per the meaning of her name -- 'giving light to the world'.

    "Her work can be an inspiration for all those want to fight climate change," he added.

    While talking about Chennai rains and the disaster caused there, the Prime Minister said while the state government is trying to tide over the situation, the Centre is working shoulder-to-shoulder with it.

    A central team has gone to Tamil Nadu to assess the damage, he said while expressing confidence that the state will keep moving forward despite this crisis.

    In the context of climate change, a caller from Jalandhar highlighted the problem of burning of crop residue.

    Responding to this, PM Modi said the problem was not confined to Punjab and Haryana but it was there all over the country as farmers find it to be the easiest way to dispose of the crop residue.

    He asked farmers to have a rethink on this while telling them that the residue can be used as fertiliser as has been done by many from the agriculture community.

    PM Modi noted that till about 15 years back, the natural disaster was seen only in the context of crop failure due to drought. "But now its form has changed. We have to build capacities at all levels. Civil society, citizens and small organisations will have to build scientific capacities."

    He recalled that after Nepal earthquake earlier this year, he had called up Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and proposed that all SAARC nations should have a joint exercise for disaster preparedness.

    "I am happy that a 'table talk exercise and best practices' seminar was held recently in Delhi. This is a good beginning," the Prime Minister said.

Questions Rise Over $100 Billion Climate Change Financing Progress
  • Questions Rise Over $100 Billion Climate Change Financing ProgressNEW DELHI:  A day before the crucial climate conference in Paris, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das today questioned the "correctness" of an OECD report claiming significant progress on a roadmap for USD 100 billion a year climate change financing by 2020.

    During the recent Lima World Bank / IMF meetings, India had raised the issue of a roadmap for USD 100 billion a year climate change financing by 2020.

    Mr Das has stated that India had also raised questions on the "correctness" of the recent OECD report, which has claimed that significant progress had already been made.

    He expressed his views in his foreword to a discussion paper titled 'Climate Change Finance, Analysis of a Recent OECD Report: Some Credible Facts Needed' prepared by the Climate Change Finance Unit, Department of Economic Affairs.

    "...our Climate Change Finance Unit , Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance and its experts have mentioned that the OECD report appears to have overstated progress," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

    The discussion and the review paper suggests that much more work has to be done, it said.

    Mr Das has further said that "we need to establish more credible, accurate, and verifiable numbers on the true size of the mobilisation of climate change finance commitments and flows from developed to developing countries".

    The OECD in partnership with Climate Policy Initiative (OECD-CPI) recently released a paper 'Climate Finance in 2013-14 and the USD 100 billion goal'.

    The paper has claimed significant progress towards that goal. The preliminary estimates were that the mobilisation of climate change finance from developed to developing countries had reached USD 62 billion in 2014 and USD 52 billion in 2013, equivalent to an annual average over the two years of USD 57 billion.

    The discussion paper examined "carefully the OECD report's accuracy, methodology and verifiability of the numbers reported. It finds serious problems on all counts".

    Numbers were derived on self-reported basis from self-interested players, and open to "gaming" and exaggeration. The discussion paper added that the views and analysis contained do not necessarily reflect the views of the government of India.

'Be Tolerant', BJP Tells Congress After Chidambaram's Remark on Salman Rushdie's Book Ban
  • 'Be Tolerant', BJP Tells Congress After Chidambaram's Remark on Salman Rushdie's Book BanNEW DELHI:  A day after former Finance Minister and Congress leader P Chidambaramtermed the ban on Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses as 'wrong', the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asked why it took him 27 years to admit it and advised the opposition party to be a "little tolerant".

    "The question arises that after close to nearly three decades why was there a need to do so (to admit the mistake).

    If it is reflective of Congress' thinking, then one needs to see it in a larger perspective and everyone, which includes Congress particularly, needs to be a little tolerant," BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said.

    He, however, said caution needed to be exercised by all as "Constitution puts reasonable restrictions on the freedom of expression".

    Noted author Amitav Ghosh said he was glad that Mr Chidambaram, who was Minister of State for Home in the Rajiv Gandhi government when it had banned Mr Rushdie's book in October 1988, accepted that it was a wrong decision.

    Lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan said he agreed with Mr Chidambaram entirely. "These kinds of books are literary pieces and in my view there is no occasion to ban such book," he said.

    Congress leader Manish Tewari said the former Union minister was absolutely correct and that time had come for the country to move beyond proscribing books and other creative material. "We need to create tolerant ethos in this country," he said.

    "I have no hesitation in saying that the ban on Salman Rushdie's book was wrong," Mr Chidambaram had said while speaking at the Times LitFest on Saturday.

Parliament to Discuss Intolerance, But Gaps Appear in Opposition Ranks
  • Parliament to Discuss Intolerance, But Gaps Appear in Opposition RanksNEW DELHI:  The winter session of Parliament got off to a smooth start on November 26, with lawmakers debating various provisions of the Indian Constitution on the 6th Constitution Day and the 125th anniversary of its architect, Dr BR Ambedkar. But will Parliament once again witness disruptions as the discussion on growing intolerance gets underway on Monday?

    There is a clear divide in the Opposition on the matter.

    At the all-party meeting held on November 25 in the backdrop of actor Aamir Khan's remarks on "growing intolerance", the opposition parties had made a strong pitch for an early discussion on the issue. They have insisted that the returning of awards by writers, artistes and filmmakers should not be taken lightly.

    Today, Congress' K C Venugopal, who has given a notice to start the discussion, avoided a response. His colleague in the Rajya Sabha Rajeev Shukla said: "The intolerance issue will be certainly raised along with inflation."

    But Sultan Ahmed of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress says raising issues for debates shouldn't transform into disruptions.

    "We want the House to discuss every issue including intolerance, but there should no disruption," Mr Ahmed said, adding, "Disruptions are also a kind of intolerance!"

    Trinamool's stance holds out hope for the government which is keen to pass the Goods and Services tax -- Modi government's flagship legislative agenda -- in the current session of Parliament.

    To get the Congress on board, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already held a chai-pe-charcha with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh on Friday.

    The Congress is yet to formally spell out its stand after the Prime Minister's meeting with their party president but Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the junior minister for Parliamentary Affairs, expressed optimism.

    Speaking to NDTV, Mr Naqvi said: "The issues that are related to the development of the country don't belong to any party. I am sure all parties will come forward for the development of the country."

    Both PM Modi and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley have also expressed confidence that the GST bill will be passed after holding a series of meetings with the opposition parties last week.

Business Affairs 

GST tax regime operational in over 100 nations
  • GST tax regime operational in over 100 nationsThe goods and services tax (GST) regime is operational in 160 countries in the world, including the European Union, Australia, Canada, Brazil and South Africa and China.
    The empowered committee of state finance ministers had gone for a week's visit to Australia recently to study the implementation of the GST in the country.
    The high-powered committee has made eight study trips abroad, on many occasions visiting more than one country, since it started deliberations on the path-breaking tax reform.
    The rationale of these visits was to dispel the fear psychosis amongst states that their financial powers would be eroded with the introduction of GST.
    There have been sharp differences between some states and the Centre over the proposed tax reform and the rift tends to widen due to political reasons when the state government is ruled by an opposition party.
    According to tax experts the Australian model held valuable lessons for India. The debate in India for the past eight years has been about who decides the tax rates and who holds veto power. The implementation of the tax hinges on coordination between the Centre and the states. The federal models of Canada and Australia are two systems from which adaptations can be made to the Indian model.
    In the case of Canada where the federal government imposes the tax and it is optional for provinces to adopt it. However, in Australia the federal government imposes a national tax, administers it and distributes the entire revenue among the provinces.
    Last year, the state finance minister's committee made a nine-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai in September. The first trip of the committee was in 2006 to the UK, Canada and Italy, for 11 days.
    Subsequently, the committee headed by then West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta visited Australia and Singapore in May 2007 and Brazil and the UK in August of the same year. France, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg were part of an 11-day trip in 2011.
    This was followed by a 15-day tour of Canada and Japan in September 2012 and 12 days in South Africa in July 2013.

SKS Microfinance cuts interest rate by 1 per cent, says won't crimp margins
  • SKS Micro cuts interest rate by 1%, says won't crimp marginsSKS Microfinance further slashed its interest rates by 1 per cent on Friday, for all future disbursals, to 19.75 per cent with effect from December 7, saying it does not see any impact on margins as the move reflects declining cost for the company.
    Announcing a 100 basis points (bps) reduction in lending rates, the only listed small lender claimed that no micro lender in the world offers sub-20 per cent interest rate to borrowers.
    "Our margins will have no impact as we are passing on the benefit of lower cost of funds which we have gained from reduction in our cost of borrowing," SKS Microfinance president S Dilli Raj told PTI.
    The firm had earlier slashed rate by 1.25 per cent in September.
    The new rates will be effective from December 7 for new loans, he added and explained that considering the short-term tenure of MFI (Microfinance institutions) loans by the time the tedious process of repricing is done, the loan would have been paid back.
    In a statement released earlier, the company said the reductions are consistent with its policy of passing on the cost advantages accruing from reduction in the cost of borrowing and economies of scale to its borrowers.
    Its marginal cost of borrowing stood at 11.3 per cent in the September quarter as compared to 13.6 per cent in the financial year 2014, Raj said, referring to the regulatory stipulations which mandate that the spread should not be more than 10 percentage points.
    "Marginal cost of borrowing for the second half of the current fiscal year is expected to be lower than 11.3 per cent, given that we have accessed refinance worth Rs 100 crore from Mudra at 10 per cent and issued commercial papers at 9.5 per cent per annum in October and November," Raj said.
    Of the overall borrowing, around 17 per cent is from commercial papers and bonds and 70 per cent from banks, SKS Microfinance managing director and chief executive M R Rao said.
    Rao further said that the non-core or the fee income business contributes 9 per cent to the company's overall profit and 1.8 per cent of the loan portfolio.
    In the quarter to September, SKS' gross loan portfolio stood at over Rs 5,434 crore.
    The company registered a 5.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop in cost to income to 47 per cent in the second quarter as compared to 52.3 per cent in the first quarter.
    As of September end, the company had a net worth of Rs 1,203 crore and a capital adequacy of 24.6 per cent. Cash and cash equivalents stood at Rs 834 crore.
    The market lapped up the news and the SKS counter rallied over 7.2 per cent to close at Rs 454.65 on the BSE on Friday.

Transporting coal via waterways can save Rs 10,000-crore per year, says Nitin Gadkari
  • Transporting coal via waterways can save Rs 10K-cr/yr: GadkariInland waterways can not only boost the movement of goods and passengers across the country, but will also help in saving about Rs 10,000 crore annually in transporting coal, Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari said on Saturday.
    The minister, who also holds the charge of Road Transport and Highways, added that he is hopeful of Parliament's nod on the bill to convert 111 rivers across India into National Waterways in the current Winter Session.
    Inland waterways will help in saving logistics costs and boost movement of goods and passengers across the country. Besides, they will also save around Rs 10,000 crore per year while transporting coal, a crucial resource, Gadkari said at the annual session of industry chamber PHDCCI in New Delhi.
    The waterways is a cheaper and environment friendly medium for transporting of goods, he said adding one HP moves 150 kg on road, 500 kg on rail and 4,000 kg on water besides one litre of fuel moves 24 tonne/km on road, 85 tonne/km on rail and 105 tonne/km on water.
    "I am hopeful that Parliament will approve the bill to convert 111 rivers across India into National Waterways," he added.
    The Minister pointed out that port sector in India has turned around under the present government and those managing ports have been directed to improve the performance.
    "We expect the ports to register a profit of Rs 6,000 crore this fiscal, which the government will invest to create assets to spur growth," Gadkari said.
    He said that infrastructure sector in India would witness massive changes and transformation in the next few years as the government is converting many four-lane roads and highways into eight lanes as well as a large number of national highways will be turned into express ways.
    "Necessary permissions and approvals for undertaking such assignments have been completed," he added.
    The Minister called upon the industry to participate in making dry ports, as the country's 14 states have the potential for such ports. To achieve this the willing land owners would have to give their land on which the proposed ports would be built to reduce the logistics and transportation costs especially for imports and exports, he added. 

    RBI to fine tune gold monetisation scheme
    • RBI to fine tune gold monetisation schemeThe RBI is set to "fine tune" the Gold Monetisation scheme as the initial response to the scheme has been lukewarm.
      "We need some fine tuning (Gold monetisation scheme)," RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan told reporters.
      Till November 18, the gold monetisation scheme had garnered 400 grams of physical gold. The country has over 20,000 tonnes worth over Rs 52 lakh crore of idle gold with households and institutions.
      Gems and jewellery industry representatives last week met Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das and discussed ways to make the scheme attractive.
      The industry associations urged the government to allow BIS certified jewellers to act as collection agents for gold monetisation scheme and the Finance Ministry had given an in-principle nod to the suggestion.
      At present, there are 3.5 lakh jewellers in the country, of which 13,000 are BIS-certified.
      With regard to Sovereign gold bond, the Governor said "response to the scheme has been good and encouraging".
      As many as 63,000 application totalling Rs 246 crore has been received under the first tranche of Gold Bond scheme which closed on November 20. The allotment of bonds will happen on November 30.
      "This is an excellent response for an innovative product," Shaktikanta Das tweeted Friday.

    Gold, silver extend losses on weak global cues, low demand
    • Gold, silver extend losses on weak global cues, low demandGold extended its slide for the second straight day as prices tumbled by Rs 195 to Rs 25,615 per 10 grams at the bullion market on Saturday, taking weak cues from the global market and easing demand from jewellers.
      Silver also fell by Rs 150 to Rs 34,100 per kg on poor offtake by industrial units and coin makers.
      Bullion traders said a weakening global trend where gold fell to the lowest in five years after speculation that US policy makers will raise interest rates next month helped boost the dollar, curbing the metal's appeal as an alternative asset.
      Besides, muted demand from jewellers and retailers on the domestic front weighed on the precious metals, they said.
      Globally, gold declined 1.3 per cent to settle at $1,056.20 an ounce in New York in yesterday's trade. Earlier, the price fell to $1,051.60, the lowest since February 2010. Silver also fell 0.9 per cent to $14.04 an ounce.
      In the national capital, gold of 99.9 per cent and 99.5 per cent purity slumped Rs 195 each to Rs 25,615 and Rs 25,465 per 10 grams, respectively. The precious metal had shed Rs 10 yesterday.
      Sovereign followed suit and eased by Rs 100 to Rs 22,100 per piece of eight gram.
      Tracking gold, silver ready declined by Rs 150 to Rs 34,100 per kg and weekly-based delivery by Rs 125 to Rs 33,700 per kg.
      However, silver coins continued to be traded at previous level of Rs 48,000 for buying and Rs 49,000 for selling of 100 pieces.

      General Awareness

      India emits only 3.96% of global carbon dioxide emission – Mospi report

        • According to a report released by the ministry of statistics and programmer implementationIndia emitted 1,146 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2008 while the total emissions from the globe were 28,962 million tonnes.
          • As per Govt data, India emits only 96% of the global carbon dioxide emissions.
          As per UNDP Human Development Report 2007/2008, India’s share of CO2 in the total emissions in the world is very insignificant in per-capita terms. The per-capita emission of an Indian citizen is 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide whereas his counterpart in USAcontributing 20.6 tons.

          India emits only 3.96 of global carbon dioxide emissions - Mospi report
          India’s Goal for climate change
          Earlier India has declared a voluntary goal of reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25%, over 2005 levels by 2020.
          • Now in recognition of the growing problem of climate change, India now plans to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 30-35 % by 2030 from 2005 levels.
          Impact of climate change on agriculture could result in problems with food security and maythreaten the livelihood activities upon which much of the population depends.
          What is Climate Change?
          Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time.
          • Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions.

      Sunday, November 29, 2015

      Current Affairs - 29 November 2015

      by , in
      General Affairs

      Indian Courts Have Always Defended Free Speech and Expression: Arun Jaitley
      • Indian Courts Have Always Defended Free Speech and Expression: Arun JaitleyNEW DELHI:  Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said courts in the country have always upheld and defended the right to free speech and expression.

        "Courts in India have always defended the right to free speech, guaranteed under the Article 19 of Indian Constitution. We can compete with European courts in this," said Mr Arun Jaitley while addressing a session at the Times LitFest being held in the city.

        Following Independence, he said, the judicial system in the country was "weak" as it was "overpowered" by the governments. But there were many landmark judgements that "resisted" the government's authority, he added.

        Speaking about "Five legal cases that have shaped Indian democracy", he mentioned two such cases holding significance in the context. Mr Arun Jaitley said the Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala case was the "most important" case in history as the Supreme Court outlined the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.

        Mr Arun Jaitley also said Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India was another case, where Ms Gandhi's passport was impounded by the state, that highlighted the "supremacy of fundamental rights" in the country.

        He also said the "judgement on gay sex should be reconsidered" by the courts.

      Nestle India Questions Lucknow Lab Test on Pasta
      • Nestle India Questions Lucknow Lab Test on Pasta
        NEW DELHI:  Nestle India, which is facing a fresh controversy over its pasta products after Maggi noodles, today questioned the validity of lab test done by the Uttar Pradesh government saying it was neither "NABL accredited" nor "notified by FSSAI".

        Reiterating that its MAGGI Pazzta is 100 per cent safe, Nestle India said that Lucknow-based National Foods Analysis Laboratory and its reports can not be relied upon.

        "The media reports also mention that the tests have been conducted at National Foods Analysis Laboratory, Lucknow. The laboratory is not National Accreditation Board For Testing And Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited nor is notified by  Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The results of the laboratories which are not accredited cannot be relied upon," said a Nestle India spokesperson.

        The company further added that it came to know about the alleged presence of lead in its pasta through media reports only, and it is investigating these claims.

        "We have not received any formal notification from the authorities in UP or from the FSSAI about such test results," he said adding: "We will work with the authorities to resolve the situation as quickly as possible."

        On Friday, a Uttar Pradesh state government official has claimed that they had found presence of lead in Nestle's Pazzta beyond permissible limits.

        Pasta samples collected from Nestle distributor -- Sriji Traders -- at Mau district in the state on June 10, were sent to a government food testing laboratory in Lucknow, designated Officer at Food and Drug Administration,Mau, Arvind Yadav said on Friday.

        "According to report received on September 2, they failed the tests," he added.

        "The standard limit is 2.5 PPM (parts per million) while it has been found to be 6 PPM. The letter informing Nestle company sent at its Modinagar address has come back here undelivered," Mr Yadav said.

        As per the company's website, Nestle sells pasta under its brand Maggi Pazzta in four flavours - Masala Penne, Cheese Macaroni, Mushroom Penne and Tomato Twist.

      Writers' Role Critical in 'Inducing Sanity' in Society: Hamid Ansari
      • Writers' Role Critical in 'Inducing Sanity' in Society: Hamid AnsariNEW DELHI:  India's unmatched diversity of literary traditions reflects its plural ethos, Vice President Hamid Ansari said today even as he emphasised on the critical role of writers and narrators in "inducing sanity in an increasingly maddening world".

        A well-developed literary tradition is the hallmark of every civilisation, Vice President Ansari said, adding India has an unmatched diversity of literary traditions in many languages and cultural patterns.

        "This is reflective of our plural ethos that has accommodated and enriched a wide variety of impulses and influences," he said.

        He said the sense of unity that pervades the fabric of Indian society is intangible.

        "It is reflective of a continuum from the traditional to the modern and post-modern, in prose, poetry and the multiplicity of oral narratives," the Vice President added.

        The writers and narrators are inheritors of a very rich legacy, he said, adding that "their role in inducing sanity in an increasingly maddening world would remain critical".

        The Vice President was speaking at the 'Delhi Literature Festival', organised by The Times of India.

        Vice President Ansari said that he had been given to understand that the event is a people's festival covering an entire spectrum of ideas from scholarship to social media, from high art to street expressions, from 'dastaan-goi' to budding novelists, from films to sports.

        The festival, he said, aspires to be a bridge between ivory tower and the town hall.

      Stop Seeing China as an Adversary: Arup Raha
      • Stop Seeing China as an Adversary: Arup RahaHASIMARA (WEST BENGAL):  Calling for mature statesmanship from India and China, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha today said the country should not look at China as an adversary anymore.

        "We are in the same region, we have common interests.

        I don't think that we should look at them as adversaries anymore," Raha told reporters in Alipurduar district.

        "Yes, we had fought a conflict, we have borders to settle. I think its time for mature statesmanship from both the countries to reconcile on many issues ... and cooperate (and) coordinate (for) development in the region," he said when asked about the "threat" from China.

        Stating that two rising economic or military powers can co-exist, he said, the adversarial stance should now change into a more friendly stance.

        Earlier this month, the IAF chief was reported to have cited China's growing influence in the Indian subcontinent as a major security challenge for India.

        China's increasing economic and military ties with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar are all strategic moves by China to contain India, he had said.

      Russia-Turkey War of Words Escalates Over Downed Warplane
      • Russia-Turkey War of Words Escalates Over Downed WarplaneMOSCOW:  Moscow slapped sanctions on Ankara on Friday as the war of words over a downed Russian warplane escalated, with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning Russia not to "play with fire".

        Russia announced it was halting a visa-free regime for Turkish visitors, after threatening a raft of retaliatory economic measures to punish the NATO member state.

        Tuesday's incident has sent recriminations flying between two rival players in the Syrian war just as countries such as France are pushing for a broader coalition to try to defeat the ISIS group.

        The angry exchange has not been limited to official channels.

        In Crimea, a group of young people gathered around a hay effigy with the face of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set up on the main square of Simferopol.

        Activists in Moscow, belonging to a youth wing of the conservative Rodina party, put a life-size inflatable doll of Erdogan in a coffin and delivered it to the Turkish embassy.

        Pictures on the group's website also showed the activists laying several funeral wreaths with ribbons saying "From Russian patriots to US puppets" outside the embassy.

        Police detained two organisers. They were let go when law enforcement discovered they were municipal lawmakers, the group said.

        "We advise Russia not to play with fire," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, lashing out at Russia's response to the downing as well as its support of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

        Erdogan nevertheless said he wanted a direct meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when the two leaders are in Paris next week for the UN climate summit.

        But Moscow officially responded coolly, saying Turkey has yet to apologise for shooting down the jet on the Syrian border.

        'Crossed the line'

        Turkey says the Su-24 warplane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings but Russia insisted it did not cross from Syria.

        It is thought to be the first downing of a Russian plane by a NATO member in more than half a century.

        One of the pilots was shot dead in Syria after parachuting out of the burning plane while the second was found safe and sound, but one Russian soldier was killed in a rescue operation.

        Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Turkey had "crossed the line of what is acceptable" and warned the incident could severely undermine both its national and regional interests.

        Moscow has ruled out any military response, but has pledged broad measures targeting entire sectors of the Turkish economy including tourism, agriculture and possibly key energy projects.

        Lavrov said Turkish nationals would require visas from January 1, after Putin this week warned citizens not to travel to Turkey -- a hugely popular destination for Russians.

        "Russia is quite concerned with increasing terrorist threats in the Republic of Turkey," Lavrov added, after a spate of bloody attacks blamed on ISIS extremists there.

        Opposed in Syria

        Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday gave ministers two days to work out a plan to curb cooperation with Turkish companies after Russia said it would tighten checks on food imports over alleged safety standard violations.

        Moscow has also hinted the reprisals could hit two major projects with Turkey -- a planned gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant.

        The two countries have built trade ties in recent years and Russia is already energy-poor Turkey's biggest oil and gas supplier.

        But they are on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing rebels fighting to topple Assad while Moscow is one of his last remaining allies.

        Erdogan, whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide election victory earlier this month, said Turkey did not "deliberately" shoot down the plane.

        He dismissed Putin's criticism of the incident as "unacceptable", noting that Russian planes had twice violated Turkish air space in October.

        He also attacked the Kremlin's policy in Syria after it launched air strikes in September, saying it was backing the "murderer" Assad and not targeting ISIS jihadists.

      Business Affairs 

      India's economic growth will soon be in double digit, says Rajnath Singh
      • Economic growth will soon be in double digit: RajnathTaking a dig at the economic policies of the previous UPA government, Union Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday said the country's economy was revived by the Modi government and India has now become the hot favourite destination for foreign investors .
        The Union Home minister exuded confidence that in a few years, India's economic growth would in double digit. Singh said: "A number of significant steps were taken when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to power in late 1990s, due to which the GDP growth rate had touched 8 per cent and the the then prevailing global economic recession did not impact the country.
        "But after 2004, even though there was growth initially, the momentum lost gradually. The country could not achieve the desired growth. They could not match the momentum achieved by the Vajpayee government.
        "By 2014, the economic condition of the country further deteriorated. When the Modi government assumed charge, you all know what was the economic condition of the country," he said at a function of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi.
        "The UPA government was in power between 2004-14. The Home Minister said after the NDA government assumed charge in May 2014, the economy was put back on track and now the GDP growth rate is around 7.5 - 7.6 per cent.
        "India has become the hot favourite destination for foreign investors. I am sure in a few years, India's economic growth would in double digit," he said.
        Singh, however, said that he would not like to claim that prices of all essential commodities have come down but asserted that prices of many goods have come down significantly.
        "Our political opponents say that prices of pulses have gone up, vegetable prices have gone up. They create a hue and cry over it. But we have taken a number of steps to reduce the prices. We have imported many essential commodities so that prices are under control," he said.
        Singh said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already made it clear that the prime objective of the government was to speed up the economic engine.
        "The government has taken several significant steps and as a result not only domestic investors but foreign investors were getting confidence," Singh said.
        "There is a sense of confidence among investors. This government means business, this government is business friendly, this government is investors friendly, a decisive government," he said.
        The Union Minister said that the government has made many procedural and structural reforms while level of corruption has come down significantly and there was perception globally now that corruption has come down in India.
        "There is complete transparency in government too. India will soon become one of the five top economies in the world. We are trying to make common people part of the development process," he said.

      Why GST is the biggest tax reform in India since independence
      • Why GST is the biggest tax reform in IndiaThe GST bill, which subsumes all indirect taxes to create one rate and integrate the country into a single market is the biggest tax reform that is being undertaken since Independence.
        The bill has been approved by the Lok Sabha and is pending approval of Rajya Sabha where the government lacks a majority.
        The GST aims to cut red tape for taxpayers by replacing an array of central excise and state levies such as sales tax and VAT which currently range from 25 per cent to 30 per cent by a single rate of 18 per cent that is currently under consideration.
        It will also end the practice of imposing a levy on goods coming from outside a state which sees long queues of trucks stuck at state barriers which also slows the movement of goods across the country.
        The services tax which currently works out to 14.5 per cent after including the Swachh cess will go up to 18 per cent to bring it at par with the goods tax so that there is a uniform tax for both goods and services in the new GST regime.
        The GST is expected to bring about a qualitative change in the tax system by redistributing the burden of taxation equitably between manufacturing and services. The Finance Commission had commissioned a study by NCAER to assess its impact on GDP growth and exports. Preliminary results of the study indicate that the growth in GDP can be between 2-2.5 per cent with the implementation of a welldesigned GST. The increase in exports can be between 10-14 per cent.
        It is because of this reason that the government is keen to push through economic reform. Finance ministry officials say introducing the new tax could increase the revenues of the Centre and state governments substantially as all consumers would pay taxes on most goods and services. However, many state governments fear revenue losses as a result of GST being introduced, and a parallel discussion is also under way about how to compensate them, complicating efforts to reach a workable compromise.
        The Empowered Committee of State finance ministers which met last week failed to reach a consensus over the threshold for levying the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is expected to further delay the introduction of this key economic reform.
        While the Centre is of the view that threshold for levying central GST and state GST be kept at an annual turnover of Rs 25 lakh, some small states want it to be at Rs 10 lakh.
        While some states are adamant that it should be Rs 10 lakh, others are of the view the limit should be higher as bringing small traders under GST would lead to an 'inspector raj' and harassment of businessmen.
        It has now been decided to collect data from all states. The state finance ministers have referred to a sub-committee the issue of threshold below which small businesses would be exempted from the new levy.

      Indian ports to make Rs.6,000 crore profit by 2016, says Nitin Gadkari
      • Indian ports to make Rs 6K-cr profit by 2016: GadkariUnion Minister for Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari on Saturday said the profitability of the Indian port sector by the end of current year will reach around Rs 6,000 crore.
        The profit would be invested for creating assets to spur up growth, he said.
        Addressing a session at the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry here, the minister said in the next five years the contribution of highways and shipping sector to national GDP would rise to two percent from current insignificant level.
        With poised growth, the roads, highways and shipping sectors would be able to create 50 lakh employment opportunities, he said.
        Gadkari said the infrastructure sector in India would witness massive changes and transformation in next few years as by then many four-lane roads and highways would be converted into eight-lane ones as also a large number of national highways be turned into expressways.
        He said the necessary permissions and approvals for undertaking such assignments have been completed and hoped the bill relating to making 111 water-ways would be cleared in the winter session of parliament.

        Civil Aviation Ministry eases norms for aircraft imports
        • Civil Aviation Ministry eases norms for aircraft importsRelaxing the norms for aircraft imports, the Civil Aviation Ministry on Saturday said carriers would now be required to get the initial approval only from sectoral regulator DGCA .
          The move would make the approval process easier for the domestic carriers, most of which are looking to expand their fleet.
          Currently, scheduled as well as regional scheduled operators are required to seek the Ministry's approval for import and acquisition of aircraft.
          The ministry has decided to delegate the power to grant "initial NOC (No Objection Certificate)/In-principle approval for import or acquisition of aircraft to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)," an official release said today.
          The delegation of power is being done in order to simplify procedures as compliance of various Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) are regulated by the DGCA, it added.
          To implement the changes with regard to approval framework for aircraft import, the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) and RBI have also amended their existing notification and master circular, respectively.
          While the DGFT made the amendments on October 9, RBI effected the changes on November 26.
          "DGCA has now been requested to make necessary amendment in the related CAR/Rules in accordance with it," the release said.
          The easing of approval requirements also comes at a time when the ministry is working on a new aviation policy that seeks to provide various incentives for the sector.
          Earlier this week, RBI said banks can allow advance remittances for aircraft imports once the company has approval from DGCA.
          Previously, advance remittance was allowed by banks only when the importing entity had requisite approvals from Civil Aviation Ministry, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and other agencies.
          "... banks may, while allowing advance remittance without bank guarantee or an unconditional, irrevocable standby letter of credit up to $50 million, ensure that only the requisite approval of DGCA for import of aircrafts/helicopters," have been obtained by the company, RBI had said.

        • Developing nations need mutual emission reduction commitmentsIndia has a unique position among the 196 countries that are meeting in Paris on November 30 for the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. It has a gigantic voluntary emission reduction commitment, given its relatively low per capita carbon emission.
          The country has an estimated $2.5 trillion plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 33-35 per cent from the 2005 levels and it hopes to do that by 2030 if things go according to plan. This is despite the fact that the per capita carbon emission (per tonne per person) in India is just 1.6 as against 16.4 in the United States and 7.4 in the European Union.
          By voluntarily proposing a near impossible task, India is at the risk of losing face when it comes to honouring its commitment. The only way to avoid that is to make it clear that the proposal means nothing until there is sufficient financial and technical support to implement it.
          There is a rationale to do it too. The climate change talks began in 1992 with an understanding that the industrialised or developed countries would - as they are the source of most greenhouse gas emissions - do the most to cut emissions on home ground. It was also agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that developed nations would support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support for action. Over the years, leading polluters have tried to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but they are still way above levels in India. For instance, China, United States and the European Union account for approximately 55 per cent of the annual global emissions. India has a 5.7 per cent share, but its population and development needs make it more difficult to scale down emissions than most of the developed countries. Despite the odds, India remains active in climate change negotiations through voluntary commitments. This is primarily because the country is also one of the most vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change.

          A recent World Bank report Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty says that in the next 15 years, an additional 100 million people, mostly in Africa and South Asia, could get pushed into poverty due to the adverse impact of climate change on agriculture and public health with more frequent disease outbreaks. Almost 45 million of these additional poor will belong to India. This report was intentionally released just ahead of the UNFCC meet to underscore the need for emission control measures. The World Bank prescribed solutions - of rapid, inclusive and climate-smart development, together with emission reduction efforts that protect the poor - constitute the core of India's voluntary commitment formally known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These actions will form the basis of negotiations on the new international agreement on climate change in Paris.

          Seen from this context, India's INDC is highly ambitious and reflects the serious socio-economic threat it faces from climate change. It aims to develop India's renewable energy capacity from the current 36 gigawatt (GW) to 250 GW or approximately 40 percent of the total energy production by 2030 (its current share in India is just 13 percent). Similarly, it wants to create an additional carbon storage and absorption capacity for 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030, through greater forest and tree cover.
          While the objectives are laudable, the fact remains that even if India meets its commitments it still does not insulate the country from the perils of climate change, a global phenomenon. For the World Bank prescribed solutions to work, the emission reduction and mitigation targets of the major polluters should be much greater than that of India. Emission reduction commitments and financial support to developing countries are both integral to the success of the Paris talks. Indeed, unless the negotiating parties agree to common and differentiated responsibilities, the agreement will not be comprehensive, balanced, equitable and pragmatic.
          India has very little left to trade off in the Paris negotiations. It should have started off by offering less, and raised its commitment gradually on the basis of reciprocity. Now, having lost that chance, it should take a clear position that the implementation of these targets solely depends upon the international financial and technical help it receives and the level of commitments others make.
          Fulfilment of these commitments also means huge business opportunities. India alone needs to spend $834 billion on mitigation activities while its estimates for implementing adaptation actions in agriculture, forestry, fisheries infrastructure, water resources and ecosystems is $206 billion. In energy sector alone, the investment will be about $7.7 billion.
          The developed countries may not be the ones to be worst hit by changes in the climate. But they may benefit the most from the money spent on climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

          General Awareness

          First National Constitution Day

            • In October, while laying the foundation stone of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Memorial in Mumbai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that this year onwards, November 26 would be observed as Constitution Day.

              National Constitution Day
              • The Constitution Day events will be a part of the year-long nationwide celebrations to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar.
              • With this day India will pay its tribute to “the great men and women” who gave the country its constitution and recognize the “stellar contribution” of Dr B R Ambedkar.
              Why it is observed on 26 November?
              National constitutional Day is observed on Nov 26 because on this day in 1949, the constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly.
              • However, it came into force on Jan 26, 1950 which is celebrated as India’s Republic Day.
              Facts about Constitution of India
              Constitution of India was neither printed nor typed. It was handwritten and calligraphed in both Hindi and English.
              • Currently, the original copies have been kept in special helium-filled cases in the Library of the Parliament.
              • It’s the longest written constitution of any independent country of the world.
              • Constitution of India borrowed several ideas from other countries, hence, it is known as abag of borrowings.
              • Concept of 5-year-plans was taken from USSR.
              • Concepts of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were taken from the French constitution.
              • The law, which the Supreme Court of India follows, was taken from Japan.
              • Directive principles were taken from Ireland.
              • The Constituent Assembly had 284 members including 15 women members.
              • Constitution of India is known as the best constitution of the world as it has only seen 94 amendments.

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