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Current Affairs - 24 November 2015

General Affairs

In Singapore Lecture, PM Modi Alludes to South China Sea Dispute
  • In Singapore Lecture, PM Modi Alludes to South China Sea Dispute
    SINGAPORE:  Amid a standoff between China and some East Asian nations over South China Sea, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said oceans, space and cyberworld should not become "new theatres of contests" but be the avenues of "shared prosperity" and offered to work in this direction.

    Delivering a lecture in Singapore, he talked about how India and China have kept their border region peaceful and stable despite the "unresolved issues", including the boundary question between the two countries.

    "In the flux and transition of our times, the most critical need in this region is to uphold and strengthen the rules and norms that must define our collective behaviour," he said.

    "...We must all come together, in East Asia Summit and other forums, to build a cooperative and collaborative future, not on the strength of a few, but on the consent of all," PM Modi said in his 20-minute '37th Singapore Lecture -- India's Singapore Story' -- soon after his arrival on a two-day visit.

    In an apparent reference to the standoff between China and some East Asian Nations over South China Sea, he said, "India will work with countries in the region and beyond, including the US and Russia, our East Asia Summit partners, to ensure that our commons - ocean, space and cyber - remain avenues of shared prosperity, not become new theatres of contests."

    The statement is significance as tensions are growing over South China Sea with the US now getting involved and China warning it to keep away.

Coal Scam: Court Concludes Recording of Prosecution Evidence
  • Coal Scam: Court Concludes Recording of Prosecution Evidence
    NEW DELHI:  A special court today concluded recording of prosecution evidence in a coal block allocation scam case in which accused firm Rathi Steel and Power Limited (RSPL) and its three officials are facing trial.

    Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar has now fixed the matter for recording of statements of accused on December 15.

    The court had earlier framed charges against RSPL and its three top officials - Managing Director Pradeep Rathi, Chief Executive Officer Udit Rathi and AGM Kushal Aggarwal, for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy read with cheating.

    While framing charges, the court had observed that the accused had conspired and furnished wrong information to get the coal block and "misappropriated" nationalised natural resources.

    The case pertains to alleged irregularities in allocation of Kesla North coal block in Chhattisgarh to RSPL.

    After the court had framed charges against them, all the accused had pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.

    The three individual accused were earlier granted bail by the court after they had appeared before it pursuant to the summons issued against them.

    CBI had chargesheeted RSPL and Udit Rathi only as an accused for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and cheating.

    After considering the charge sheet, the court had issued summons to all four accused, including Pradeep Rathi and Kushal Aggarwal.

    It had noted that these officials had appeared before the screening committee to make a representation and submit a feedback form on February 7, 2008 on behalf of RSPL.

    CBI had lodged an FIR against RSPL, its directors, Udit Rathi and members of the 36th screening committee and other unnamed persons for offences under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating) of the IPC and under Prevention of Corruption Act.

    A charge sheet was later filed against RSPL and Udit Rathi only. Regarding other directors of RSPL or members of the 36th screening committee, CBI had said allegations against them could not be substantiated during the probe.

India, China Coming Together Will be a Sea Change: Rajnath Singh
  • India, China Coming Together Will be a Sea Change: Rajnath SinghSHANGHAI:  If India and China come together and 2.5 billion hearts meet on one common ground, there could be a sea change in the entire world, not just in the region, Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said.

    Addressing the Indian community at Shanghai Infosys Centre, Mr Singh highlighted the importance of India-China ties specially in the field of security and economic cooperation.

    He applauded China's efforts in strengthening bilateral ties and said his six-day visit to the country has been fruitful.

    The two countries have decided to increase cooperation on security-related issues and information sharing, he said.

    Underscoring the immense potential in India's economy, the Home Minister appealed to NRIs to come and invest in India.

    "Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come up with many schemes where investors can tap the potential of India's economy. Programmes like 'Make in India', 'Start Up India' and 'Stand Up India' give the investors an opportunity. I would go further and urge you to work for 'Scale Up India'," he said.

    Mr Singh is currently visiting the Communist country's financial hub Shanghai as part of his China tour. He visited Jade Buddha temple and the iconic 'Pearl Tower' in Shanghai.

    Yesterday, he toured a 'digital' police station in Shanghai and interacted with the Indian community. He is scheduled to return to India tomorrow.

Vladimir Putin Removes Ban on Nuclear Cooperation With Iran
  • Vladimir Putin Removes Ban on Nuclear Cooperation With Iran
    MOSCOW:  President Vladimir Putin today lifted a ban on Russian firms from working on Iranian enrichment sites as he travelled to Tehran for his first visit since 2007.

    A decree Putin signed today enables Russian firms to work with Iranian companies on the Fordo enrichment site and help Tehran in redesigning its Arak nuclear reactor.

    Russian companies can now also carry out activities linked to Iranian exports of enriched uranium of more than 300 kilograms in exchange for the supplies of natural uranium to Iran, the Kremlin decree said.

    Under a historic July deal with world powers, Iran agreed to dramatically scale back its nuclear programme, making it much more difficult for it to develop nuclear weapons.

    Tehran agreed to slash by two-thirds the number of centrifuges, machines that can "enrich" or purify uranium to make it suitable for peaceful uses but also for a nuclear weapon.

    Russian companies are eyeing business opportunities after sanctions on Iran are lifted, expected in the next two months, as the nuclear deal reaches its "implementation" stage.

    Putin arrived in Tehran todayfor talks with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, with the Syrian conflict expected to be high on the agenda.

    The one-day visit will also see Putin take part in a summit of gas exporting countries.

Exercise Could Protect the Brain From Ageing
  • Exercise Could Protect the Brain From AgeingWASHINGTON:  Exercise may increase the level of an enzyme which protects the brain from energy-depleting stress that can lead to ageing and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, a new study in mice has found.

    As we age or develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, our brain cells may not produce sufficient energy to remain fully functional.

    Researchers discovered that an enzyme called SIRT3 that is located in mitochondria - the cell's powerhouse - may protect mice brains against the kinds of stresses believed to contribute to energy loss.

    Furthermore, mice that ran on a wheel increased their levels of this protective enzyme.

    Researchers led by Mark Mattson, of the National Institute on Ageing Intramural Research Programme and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in US, used a new animal model to study whether they could aid neurons in resisting the energy-depleting stress caused by neurotoxins and other factors.

    According to the researchers, mice models that did not produce SIRT3 became highly sensitive to stress when exposed to neuro toxins that cause neurodegeneration and epileptic seizures.

    Running wheel exercise increased the amount of SIRT3 in neurons of normal mice and protected them against degeneration; in those lacking the enzyme, running failed to protect the neurons, the researchers said.

    The researchers also found that neurons could be protected against stress through use of a gene therapy technology to increase levels of SIRT3 in neurons.

    These findings suggest that bolstering mitochondrial function and stress resistance by increasing SIRT3 levels may offer a promising therapeutic target for protecting against age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.

    The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Business Affairs 

Sensex ends 46 points down; Nifty below 7,850 ahead of derivatives expiry
  • Sensex slips 100 points; Nifty below 7,850 ahead of derivatives expiryThe domestic markets ended lower in trade on Monday, swinging between minor gains and losses for most of the session, as sentiment turned cautious ahead of the expiry of derivative contracts in a holiday-shortened week.
    The S&P BSE Sensex ended the day 46.17 per cent down at Rs 25,822.32, while broader CNX Nifty slipped below closed below its key support level of 7,850. The 50-share ended quoted 7,848.55, down 8 points at close.

    Market breadth remained negative with 17 of the 30 Sensex components ending the day in red.
    Hindalco and Vedanta were the worst performers among Sensex stocks and lost 3.5 per cent and 2.9 per cent, respectively following news that both stocks will be excluded from the benchmark BSE Sensex index on December 21.
    GAIL was the best performer on both the benchmark indices and settled the day 4.82 per cent after the RasGas agreed to changing current pricing formula to 3-month average of Brent.
    Investors remained cautious as the Fed board of governors will meet later on Monday to review the advance and discount interest rates charged to commercial banks. Meeting may shed some more light on what direction Fed will take on US benchmark interest rates in its December policy meet.
    Weaker Asian markets also kept sentiment subdued, with commodity prices slumping again on the back of a rising dollar and worries about Chinese demand.
    Trading volumes are expected to be thin, with the markets closed on Wednesday for a holiday while the monthly derivative contracts are due to expire on Thursday.
    Analysts said they did not expect any major direction in markets until the US Federal Reserve meeting on December 15-16 amid rising expectations for a rate hike.
    "All eyes will be on December. There is a bit of caution going forward, there is our own rate action and the Fed rate action, which people are watching," said Arun Gopalan, vice president of research at brokerage firm Systematix Shares & Stocks.
    Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Composite ended with a downtick of 0.56 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was ended flat with a negative bias. Japanese markets were closed on account of Labour Thanksgiving Day.
    On Friday, the US stocks closed in the green, marking its best week in almost a year as big gains in shares of retail and technology companies pushed the indices higher. 

Maggi, Ramdev and FSSAI: The travails of a regulator without teeth
  • Maggi, Ramdev and FSSAI: The travails of a regulator without teethThe Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI ) is giving sleepless nights to Indian food manufacturers. First, it was the Maggi controversy, and more recently the row about yoga guru, Ramdev 's Patanjali noodles being launched without the regulator's approval.
    Nestle, the manufacturer of Maggi Noodles, won a legal battle against FSSAI when the Mumbai High Court quashed the ban against Maggi. Months later, the Supreme Court also endorsed the High Court judgement of asking the regulator to change its food regulatory laws. The food regulator had asked food manufacturers to get recipe by recipe clearance for even those products that have already been approved.
    In the case of Patanjali Noodles, the food regulator's claim has been that the FMCG company may have taken approval to launch other products but not for noodles specifically. Noodles as per the regulator requires prior approval, whereas Patanjali Ayurveda claims that it has licence under the pasta category and that noodles comes under the pasta category. Patanjali Noodles claims that it is yet to receive a legal notice from FSSAI and the deadlock continues.
    Amidst all these controversies and confusion, the one thought that comes to everyone's mind is whether the FSSAI really is the ultimate food standards authority in India. And the answer is yes: head honchos of food companies unanimously agree that FSSAI is indeed the ultimate food standards authority in India and no food product can be launched without its nod or the FSSAI licence number (which is found in the rear side of the packaging of all food products).
    So, what really is the procedure to obtain a FSSAI license? If a company is to launch a product like pasta, explains A. Mahendran, MD, Global Consumer Products, it needs to declare the ingredients that have gone into making the pasta. "If the ingredients are in accordance with the specified ingredient list of the regulator, then the company gets the FSSAI licence number. However, if the company uses ingredients which are unique and are not part of the regulator's list, then it will come under the proprietary products category and will require prior approval to launch the product."
    In the non-proprietary category (products for which the regulator has an approved list of ingredients), the regulator doesn't even verify the product prior to launch, adds the head of a leading food company. The regulator can verify the product months after launch and in case of any discrepancy, it can take the company to task.
    The regulator has standards for several categories of food. The standard for butter, for instance, is 82 per cent dairy fat, salt and water. Similarly, for a product like dairy whitener, only 18 per cent sugar content is allowed. However, there are several categories of milk and milk-based products, vegetables, fish and alcoholic beverages for which the regulator has come up with standards only this year. There are a host of other categories of food products for which the regulator is yet to come up with standards.
    There is no doubt that the country's food regulator has to get its act in place on setting up sound food standard norms. Several of the existing norms, agree the honchos, are ambiguous and conflicting.
    But then, FSSAI as an organisation is also in its infancy. It was launched as recently as 2006, and more importantly, the FSSAI does not have the judicial powers to punish offenders.
    Perhaps it is time to empower the FSSAI for bringing in more transparency in the food sector.

Rupee tumbles by 28 paise to 2-month low of 66.47 against dollar
  • Rupee tumbles by 28 paise to 2-month low of 66.47 against dollarThe rupee plunged by 28 paise to more than 2-month low of 66.47 against the US dollar today on fresh month-end demand for the American currency from importers and banks amidst volatile equity markets.
    The local unit resumed lower at 66.27 as against last weekend's level of 66.19 at the Interbank Foreign Exchange (Forex) market and dropped further to 66.48 before ending at 2-month low of 66.47, showing a loss of 28 paise, 0.42 per cent.
    The rupee had last ended at 66.54 on September 11, 2015.
    It hovered in the range of 66.24 to 66.48 during the day.
    The US dollar held firm against a basket of six major currencies, helped by the euro's weakness. The dollar index was trading up by 0.15 per cent.
    The euro extended its losses against the dollar in early Asian trade, hitting a seven-month low versus the US currency, on expectations that the European Central Bank will ramp up its monetary stimulus next month.
    Meanwhile, oil prices fell in Asia today, extending their slide as a stronger dollar and news that world stockpiles have reached a record high, put pressure on futures.
    In forward market today, premium for dollar continued to decline on persistent receipts from exporters.
    The benchmark six-month premium payable in April moved down further to 180-182 paise from the last weekend's level of 185.75-189.5 paise and far forward October 2016 contract fell to 387.5-389.5 paise from 395.5-397.5 paise.
    The RBI fixed the reference rate for the dollar at 66.34900 and for the euro at 70.4693.
    The rupee recovered against the pound sterling to end at 100.54 from 101.20 on last Friday and moved up further against the euro to settle at 70.64 from 70.80.
    However, the domestic currency moved down further against the Japanese currency to close at 53.98 per 100 yen from 53.91.

    Pfizer-Allergan deal a non-event for India
    • Pfizer-Allergan deal a non-event for IndiaIn the global media, it is being described as the biggest takeover deal in pharma that is expected to be officially announced on Monday. The New York Times for instance says: "Pfizer has clinched a blockbuster merger with a fellow drug maker, one worth more than $150 billion, that can best be described in superlatives."
      But some of the leading analysts and pharma company executives in India tell Business Today that the deal is largely a non-event for Indian pharma companies.
      First, it is a deal between innovators, and Indian companies are in the generics drugs business. Pfizer has its presence in India and Allergan, even less, and is really known for its ophthalmology products. One of its popular products in India is 'Refresh Tears,' an eye-lubricant. Globally, Allergan is also known the "Botox maker".
      Analysts say there would hardly be any overlapping of products between the companies. In fact, their portfolios are expected to be complementary. According to AIOCD AWACS ranking of pharma companies in the Indian retail market, Pfizer today stands at around 9th position and Allergan at around 48.
      Analysts do not see the deal in any way directly increasing or reducing competition as Indian companies are not direct competitors. What could be expected in India is the joint entity could move Pfizer a couple of notches up in the Indian retail market pecking order.
      Globally, though, the deal is expected to result in the creation of a huge speciality giant, especially with an edge in ophthalmology thanks to Allergan, and the combined entity is expected to be a formidable competition for most global innovator companies.
      Increasingly, there are some clear messages from the global efforts at consolidation. One, the obvious gains in growth and girth and the resultant bargaining power in the market. Then, the US companies are looking to re-domicile outside the US for several reasons, one of which could be to lower the tax bill.
      Analysts and media reports seem to suggest this as one of the reasons for this deal as Pfizer could move its headquarters from the US to Ireland. Mylan, another US major, has also shifted its domicile to the Netherlands.
      The other message that seems to come across is perhaps an increasing focus on specialisation. Part of this was visible in the GSK-Novartis deal where they exchanged some of their portfolios and, in a sense, chose their battlefields.

    Fitch downgrades outlook on JSW Steel to negative
    • Fitch downgrades outlook on JSW Steel to negativeCredit ratings agency Fitch  on Monday downgraded its outlook on JSW Steel to 'Negative' from 'Stable' due to risk of further decline in product prices.
      It also affirmed Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'BB+' and the steelmaker's senior unsecured rating and the rating on its $500 million, 4.75 per cent senior unsecured notes due 2019 at 'BB+', the agency said in a statement.
      "The revision in the outlook reflects the risk of further declines in pricing, which would make it difficult for the company to improve performance and reduce leverage," it said.
      JSW Steel' s financial profile weakened amid challenging conditions for Indian steel producers in 2015 and high debt levels as the company expands capacity, it added.
      A key assumption of Fitch's rating case is that steel prices will recover modestly in the financial year ending March 31, 2017, in response to improving steel demand in India, it said.
      The rating reflects the company's strong market position and highly efficient operations, which allows it to maintain low cost.
      Fitch expects JSW Steel's financial profile to improve significantly in 2016-17 and 2017-18, with the benefits from capex driving higher sales volume and improvement in profitability.
      The better sales and profitability are key to maintaining the 'BB+' rating, it said.
      The agency expects pressure on JSW Steel's profitability to continue in the near term. Indian steel makers have been battling an influx of cheaper steel, mainly from China and muted demand.
      JSW Steel's consolidated blended EBITDA per tonne fell to Rs 5,328 ($82) during the six months ending September 30, from Rs 9,080 in the same period a year ago.
      However, the government imposed a 20 per cent duty on imports of certain steel products from September 14, 2015 for 200 days, which has provided temporary relief to Indian steel producers.
      "We consequently expect the company's blended EBITDA per tonne to improve during the second half of the current fiscal," it added,
      However, Fitch expects Indian steel imports to remain high during 2016 and steel prices to continue to be low, and JSW Steel's EBITDA per ton is likely to remain below Rs 7,000.
      The steel major's expansion of its capacity to 18 million tonnes per annum (MTPA), from 14 MTPA, is nearing completion.
      The firm expects to complete its expansion by the fourth quarter of the current fiscal.

      General Awareness

      India Ranks 4th among World’s Most Vacation-Deprived Nations

        • Online travel site Expedia‘s “2015 Vacation Deprivation”survey has revealed India as the 4th most vacation-deprived nation globally with 65% saying they feel very or somewhat vacation-deprived.
          • UAE topped the list of most vacation-deprived countries in 2015 (76%), followed byMalaysia (73%) and Singapore (71%).

            India Ranks 4th among World's Most Vacation-Deprived Nations
          • 20% of Indians said that they are very vacation-deprived.
          About Vacation Deprivation survey
          The annual 2015 Vacation Deprivation survey is about vacation habits across multiple countries and continents. It was conducted on behalf of Expedia by Northstar, a globally-integrated strategic insights consulting firm.
          • This survey was conducted online from October 6-22, 2015 across 26 countries of North AmericaEuropeSouth America and Asia Pacific among 9,273 employed adults aged 18 years and older.
          Vacation habits of Indians
          Globally, Indians are the most likely (61%) to associate vacationing a great deal with their overall happiness, followed by Thailand (56%) and UAE (55%).
          • If Indians had more vacation days, most Indians (67%) would travel to new places(rather than favourite or usual ones).
          • 54% of Indians would prefer more vacation days over a pay rise, the highest globally.
          Further, the survey noted that vacations are considered important to travellers’ relationships with their significant others. This is particularly true in India (71%), Brazil (66%) and Mexico (65%).

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