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Current Affairs - 17 December 2015

General Affairs 

Arvind Kejriwal Should Have Checked Rajender Kumar's Background: Anna Hazare on CBI Raid
  • Arvind Kejriwal Should Have Checked Rajender Kumar's Background: Anna Hazare on CBI RaidMUMBAI:  Arvind Kejriwal should have checked the antecedents of his Principal Secretary Rajender Kumar, whose office was yesterday raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over alleged corruption , social activist Anna Hazare said today amid the face-off between the Centre and Delhi Chief Minister on the issue.

    "Instead of fending off allegations now, Kejriwal should have checked his background earlier. Arvind has always been fighting against corruption and I have always told him to have people of good character around him," Mr Hazare told reporters at Ralegan Siddhi.

    "Kejriwal should have done a background check on Rajender and found out about his character and his position in society earlier," Mr Hazare said.

    Mr Hazare, however, questioned the timing of the raid.

    "Kejriwal and BJP are blaming each other over the CBI raid on Rajender's office and the checking of files in Kejriwal's chambers. But my question is over the timing of this entire incident.

    "CBI has had this case for so long and the BJP has been in power for one-and-a-half-years and they did not think of doing this before. Action should have been taken the moment the problem was discovered," he said.

    The office of Kejriwal's Principal Secretary was raided by the CBI on Tuesday in a corruption case triggering a fresh face-off between the AAP and Centre and a vicious political slugfest in which the Aam Aadmi Party chief lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling him "coward" and a "psychopath".

    Mr Kejriwal claimed his office too was raided, a charge denied by the CBI as well as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Rajya Sabha where the Opposition created an uproar.

    The Chief Minister claimed he was the target of the raid and Rajender Kumar was just an "excuse".

India To Build Sea Bridge, Tunnel To Connect With Sri Lanka: Government
  • India To Build Sea Bridge, Tunnel To Connect With Sri Lanka: GovernmentNEW DELHI:  Keen on promoting connectivity in the South Asian region, India is set to build a sea-bridge and tunnel connecting Sri Lanka while a pact has been inked with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal for seamless flow of traffic and passenger vehicles, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said today.

    "The Asian Development Bank is ready to fully finance a bridge building project connecting Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka. The project was also discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his counterpart during the latter's recent visit," Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said in a statement in the Lok Sabha.

    The India-Sri Lanka connectivity project cost is pegged at about Rs. 24,000 crore.

    "The Government, right from the day it assumed office, has been focussed on enhancing regional cooperation.

    Subsequent to PM Modi's announcement of 'Act East policy', India pro-actively engaged in building effective and credible links between South Asia and South East Asia through enhanced regional connectivity," he said.

    "A major milestone was the signing of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) in Thimphu to facilitate seamless movement of passenger and cargo vehicles in the region," he said.

    Under BBIN MVA, a cargo trial run was held on the 640 km Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala route last month, which was a substantial reduction compared to the traditional 1,550 km transit route from Kolkata to Agartala via Siliguri-Guwahati-Silchar, he said.

    "The four countries have also identified 14 routes for passenger services and 7 routes for cargo movement under the BBIN MVA...Several major Road Transport Corridor Projects for approximately 2400 kms have been identified in India and particularly in the North Eastern region at an estimated investment of USD 4.6 billion which are proposed to be taken up with ADB support," Mr Gadkari said.

    Once BBIN and other agreements are operationalised, the dream of seamless movement of all types of vehicles between SAARC and ASEAN nations will become a reality and "I hope that this will happen soon", he said.

    About 110 km on the Imphal-Moreh (NH 39) will be taken up for upgradation by NHIDCL with loan being provided by ADB while the Ministry has also proposed projects for JICA loan assistance for developing road infrastructure to connect neighbouring countries through the North East, he said.

    "A total of 10 sub-projects have been included in JICA's rolling plan under the North East Cross Border Connectivity improvement project covering about 1153 kms at an approximate investment of USD 1.81 billion. Of these, 435 kms of National Highways in Mizoram (NH 54) and Meghalaya (NH 51 and 64) are expected to commence construction in 2016-17," Mr Gadkari said.

    In order to fulfil the need to promote seamless road transportation and social and technical collaboration for closer regional economic cooperation, he said his Ministry has taken initiative for cross-border passenger transportation and several new bus services on many routes have been started between India and Bangladesh and Nepal.

    These include bus services on routes like Delhi-Kathmandu, Varanasi-Kathmandu, Kolkata-Agartala via Dhaka and Guwahati-Shillong-Dhaka.

    New routes on which bus services are also proposed to include Delhi-Pokhra, Lumbini-Patna-Gaya, Siliguri-Kathmandu, Kolkata-Khulna and Imphal-Mandalay, he said.

    A parallel and significant initiative has been taken by the Ministry for a trilateral pact between India-Myanmar-
    Thailand (IMT), and is expected to be signed by March 2016, he said.

    "This will open the way for movement of cargo and passengers (including personal vehicles) from South to South East Asia up to Thailand," Mr Gadkari said.

Indian Army Celebrates Vijay Diwas In Jammu Today
  • Indian Army Celebrates Vijay Diwas In Jammu TodayJAMMU:  The Indian Army today celebrated 'Vijay Diwas' in Jammu to pay homage to those who died in the 1971 war that led to Pakistan's defeat and Bangladesh's birth.

    Army spokesman Colonel SD Goswami told IANS that the 44th anniversary of the event was celebrated with traditional enthusiasm at the Northern Command headquarters.

    "A large number of dignitaries, ex-servicemen and service personnel participated in the celebrations.

    "December 16 is celebrated as 'Vijay Diwas' to commemorate India's historic victory over Pakistan," he added.

    It was on this day in 1971 that some 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian Army in Dhaka - the largest military surrender after World War II.

    "This historic victory signifies a unique and unparalleled feat wherein our forces fought selflessly for a just and noble cause: the liberation of the people of erstwhile East Pakistan and the creation of an independent Bangladesh," the spokesman said.

    The Northern Command commemorated the occasion with a wreath laying at Dhurva Shahid Smarak by Lt Gen NPS Hira.

India Enters Guinness Records For 'World's Largest Practical Science Lesson'
  • India Enters Guinness Records For 'World's Largest Practical Science Lesson'NEW DELHI:  India has earned a place in the coveted Guinness Book of World Records by conducting the 'worlds largest practical science lesson'.

    On December 7, as many as 2000 students from various schools across the city, came together at IIT Delhi and successfully conducted two simple chemistry experiments.

    The students, wearing their white lab-coats, entered the venue within the IIT Delhi campus, where they were given a numbered band. Before the students performed the experiments, they were given a detailed lesson on catalysis as the experiments they performed were using catalysts.
    One of the experiments included the making of the Indian Tricolour using different food colours.

    The judges included a vice chancellor of a university, and interestingly, the special commissioner of police from Delhi, who carefully oversaw that the entire exercise was conducted in an orderly manner.

    Today the Ministry of Science and Technology confirmed that the Guinness Records organisation has accepted, India's claim. The record was last held by the revered Royal Society of Chemistry at a similar mass demonstration done in Ireland where 1339 students participated earlier this year.

    The government hopes such lessons will catalyze students propelling them to take up a career in science.

    Participating in the event, Human Resources Development minister Smriti Irani said, "to enthuse students, this should be repeated in all state capitals."

    She went on to say that "a humongous session should be organized next year at a venue as large as the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi, to accommodate around 20,000 students to undertake a similar exercise to promote Science."

Arvind Kejriwal Knew About About His Officer, Says Corruption Watchdog
  • Arvind Kejriwal Knew About About His Officer, Says Corruption Watchdog
    NEW DELHI:  An outraged Arvind Kejriwal said after CBI raids on his Principal Secretary Rajender Kumar that had he been informed, he would have acted himself, that he would "not spare even my own son" if accused of corruption.

    But officials of corruption watchdog Transparency International say it was back in May that they wrote to the Chief Minister asking him to investigate Rajender Kumar, but he did nothing about it.

    The CBI's raids on Rajender Kumar's office right next to that of the Chief Minister at the Delhi Secretariat have triggered a massive political row between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Centre.

    Mr Kejriwal has backed the officer he had handpicked for his team and said he was "surprised" by the allegations against him.

    Not true, say Transparency International officials, who find it "strange" that the Chief Minister says he was not aware of the allegations.

    "We forwarded a letter around May 27. The news was covered in newspaper. The details that the CBI is probing were in that news item. In the letter we requested just to investigate the complaint. Whether it is a truth or lie, it is the job of the investigating agency to decide," said Ramnath Jha a director of the watchdog.

    The officials say the whistleblower came with specific information. "We sat with him for an entire day and verified his claims over 20 days," says Ashutosh Mishra, another director.

    "The allegation is that the person used to favour certain companies which were floated by and run by his colleagues. These are publicly available documents. There was a clear case of conflict of interest. The requirement was to just forward the letter to the vigilance department," Mr Jha said.

    Since the controversial raids yesterday, more than one person has contradicted Mr Kejriwal, who rose to the spotlight in politics as an anti-corruption crusader. His former mentor Anna Hazare has said that he should have checked Mr Kumar's record before appointing him.

    A former AAP volunteer, Om Prakash, has also claimed that he emailed Mr Kejriwal on December 27, 2013, about Rajender Kumar, even before his appointment. Mr Prakash alleges that Mr Kejriwal called him and told him off for writing to him.

Business Affairs 

PM Narendra Modi to focus more on farmers and fields than roads and railways
  • PM Narendra Modi seen pivoting from roads to fields in next budgetPrime Minister Narendra Modi will recalibrate budget priorities in 2016 to focus on social initiatives, such as the country's first major crop insurance scheme, while capping previously prioritised infrastructure spending , officials say.
    Modi splurged on roads and railways this year in a strategy to spur economic growth. But it came partly at the expense of federal programmes for farmers and the poor, suffering through back-to-back drought years.
    In the first confirmation of a shift in strategy, a senior government source with knowledge of deliberations for Modi's second full budget said New Delhi would focus more on the social sector following what he described as a "shocking" defeat in last month's state elections in largely rural Bihar.
    It was unlikely more money would be freed up for infrastructure when the budget is unveiled in February, he said, because the government is trying to keep spending on track to lower the fiscal deficit.
    Commitments to raise government salaries, military pensions and to infuse capital into state banks reeling under bad loans have left little room for additional spending. What money is left, sources say, will be earmarked for the social sector - especially rural districts that house three-fifths of voters.
    The renewed focus on social-welfare programmes precedes crucial state elections in heartland farming states such as West Bengal next year and Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
    In what could be the first major scheme for farmers since Modi took office in 2014, the government is planning to launch a fresh version of the national crop insurance programme next summer. It would cover the majority of India's 263 million farmers, a farm ministry source said on condition of anonymity.
    Indian farmers rarely take out crop insurance unless it's needed to secure a bank loan. Existing insurance plans, based mainly on crop yields, cover 10 per cent of farmers. Many farmers barely make a living from small and marginal plots and cannot afford the premiums. The premiums tend to be based on the crop yields of more prosperous farmers who use higher quality seeds, fertilizers and equipment.
    Under the plan being considered, a portion of premiums to be paid by farmers would be linked to their capacity to pay, the first source said.
    To attract more growers, the government could lower the share of the premium farmers pay to up to 30 per cent from 50 per cent earlier, the agriculture ministry source said. The proposed plan would also limit government support to insurers so that the overall hit to the budget stays low.
    State and federal governments spend about $373 million a year on premiums, while total payouts have been less than $700 million in recent years. The farm ministry source expects only a marginal increase in the total premiums the government pays.
    "The prime minister is constantly trying to find new schemes and formulate policies to help the villagers," said a Modi aide who declined to be named. "But the truth is that we are still trying to identify the right strategy ... it's a work in progress."
    Funding for roads and bridges more than doubled in this year's budget and is now higher than the sum allocated to education. At the same time, funding was halved for a scheme that gives millions of poor children free food, and allocations to make clean water available in rural areas were drastically cut.

Sensex ends 174 points up, Nifty at 7,750 ahead of US Federal Reserve meeting outcome
  • Sensex ends 174 points up, Nifty at 7,750 ahead of US Federal Reserve meeting outcomeExtending gains for the third consecutive session, the S&P BSE Sensex settled the day 174 points higher but a tad below its crucial psychological level of 25,500, while the broader CNX Nifty managed to hold its key 7,750-mark.
    Markets rose as investors have by now priced in an expected hike in US interest rates.
    The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to announce a hike in interest rates when its two-day policy-setting meeting concludes later tonight.
    It would be the first rate hike in US in nearly a decade, signalling the beginning of an end of quantitative easing that supplied ample liquidity to emerging markets including India.        
    Now that rate hike is mostly a done deal after more than a year of anticipation, investor will shift focus on how the Fed might opt to pace its tightening cycle next year. The central bank has hinted that it intends to raise rates gradually.
    The 30-share index ended at 25,494.37, up 173.93 points, while the broad-based 50-share index quoted 7,750.90, up 50.00 points at close.
    Market breadth remained positive with 23 of the 30 Sensex components ending the day in green.
    "The market has already priced in a rate hike and we have corrected significantly, the problem will be if the Fed doesn't hike rates tonight," told Gaurang Shah, vice president at Geojit BNP Paribas to Reuters.
    "We won't see a runaway rally, we might see some minor sell-offs, but everyone is waiting for this (Fed meet) to get over," the expert added.
    Shares of auto companies reacted mixed to the news that Supreme Court has ordered a temporary ban on the sale of large diesel cars in New Delhi. Stock of Mahindra & Mahindra lost 5 per cent, while that of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland witnessed mild rebound after recent losses.
    Sugar stocks hogged limelight and made significant gains after a bill seeking to raise the sugar cess ceiling from Rs 25 to Rs 200 per quintal was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
    The government said it will help cane-growers who are in crisis as it can facilitate rehabilitation and modernisation of sugar factories.
    Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Composite added 0.17 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished 2.01 per cent higher, while Japan's Nikkei gained 2.16 per cent.
    Overnight, US stocks rose broadly on Tuesday but ended far off their session highs ahead of Wednesday's interest rate decision from the Federal Reserve. 

Five takeaways from Sundar Pichai's speech in Delhi
    1. Google CEO Sundar Pichai
    2. Google will work to increase internet access to as many people as possible. That implies a huge thrust on Indian language internet. Also, technologies and solutions to beam internet to rural areas and connect people in public spaces such as railway stations.
    3. Google will work on products that are lighter and faster. These may also consume less data. For India, there could be more products that work offline and on slow connections.
    4. Google will continue to work on bringing more small businesses online. That's great business sense. All of them would require its advertising products to be relevant in the online world.
    5. Google is not happy with just short-form content on Youtube. There is a surge in long form. It is partnering, and will partner with, organisations such as film schools to ensure more long-form content gets uploaded.
    6. All of the above imply investments. Google will invest in both engineering and business development in India. A new campus in Hyderabad is in the offing.

Early GST rollout to help create more jobs, boost output: IMF
  • IMF managing director Christine LagardePitching for an early take-off of the Goods and Services Tax, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said it will help India create more jobs, increase revenue as well as promote domestic manufacturing.
    She assured support and technical assistance for implementation of the comprehensive indirect tax reform, which will subsume excise and sales taxes.
    "The implementation of GST will help India create jobs and help in raising revenue to finance health, education etc," she said in a recorded video message at an interactive session of the industry with the Finance Minister on GST.
    Terming GST as a trade agreement, she said, a harmonised and unified GST will broaden tax base.
    Simple to administer will make GST an efficient taxation too, she added.
    "IMF is ready to lend support and provide technical assistance for GST implementation," she said.
    Speaking during the session, CII president Sumit Mazumder said in light of recent developments, the ongoing delay in implementation of GST is a matter of great concern.
    If the Constitutional Amendment Bill is not passed in the current winter session, it will be a big disappointment for the industry and a roadblock in the development of the country, he said.
    "CII has always maintained that GST would lead to 1.5-2 per cent increase in GDP growth. What better economic stimulus can there be?" he asked.
    Ficci president Jyotsna Suri is oppopsed to the "politicisation" of GST, which is "in the interest of nation and imperative for the industry".
    Terming the implementation of GST as a poverty alleviation measure, Onkar Kanwar, Chairman of Apollo Tyres, said: "The government is trying very hard to push the Constitutional Amendment Bill. I hope some good sense will prevail in Parliament."
    Ford India president Nigel Harris said: "GST needs to happen now. It will give India a lot of credibility and ease of doing business. I don't think everyone is giving up (on GST). We are just re-emphasising this is the right thing to do."
    Confederation of All India Traders president Praveen Khandelwal was on the same page too.
    "It will unify all indirect taxes and tax administration will become simple," Khandelwal added.

India recorded $17.5 bn PE investments in 2015: PwC
  • India recorded $17.5 bn PE investments in 2015: PwCPrivate equity investments in India touched a record high of $17.5 billion in 2015 across 685 deals, breaching the previous high of $14.7 billion recorded in 2007, a PwC report says.
    According to the report, PE investments (excluding real estate deals) till December 14, this year stood at $17.5 billion, registering a jump of 34 per cent over calender year 2014, which saw $13 billion invested across 560 deals.
    The surge in PE investments this year was largely owed to the e-commerce sector, which saw deals worth $5.3 billion across 290 deals.
    The other sectors, which outperformed this year were, financial services and healthcare, which contributed deals worth $2.4 billion and $1.58 billion, respectively.
    "Year 2015 has been a good year for PE all around and seems to be carrying momentum into the next year," PwC India leader Private Equity Sanjeev Krishan said.
    Krishan further said an enabling regulatory regime and a facilitating business environment would help both the seekers and providers of capital.
    "The government of the day appears to realise and is keen to provide the platform. This would hopefully spur investments into India in a bigger way then 2015 and hopefully they would create another record year for themselves in 2016," he added.
    The report noted the government's focus on making it easier for foreign investors to do business in India would help from a perception stand-point and needs to be backed by real reform.
    "The silver lining for India is that the rest of the BRIC's are not doing too well at the moment and India's macros are looking good, with the current account and fiscal deficit at acceptable levels, relatively stable rupee, inflation at sub 5 per cent and most importantly in a declining interest rate regime, which should encourage private investment as demand picks up," the report added.
    Meanwhile, the year 2015 also saw exits worth $8.2 billion, which was more than double of $4 billion of exits in the previous year.
    Prior to this year, 2010 had seen record high number of exits at $6.3 billion.

General Awareness

For non-market factors – 4 indices launched by Asia Index

    • The Asia Index Private Ltd, a JV between S&P Dow Jones Indices and BSE has launched 4 new indices as part of its attempt to enable investors to invest based on parameterslike valuation and volatility.
      • Each of the four indices includes the top 30 companies, which are selected based on their respective factor scores in accordance with the index methodology.
      • The indices are drawn from the constituents of the S&P BSE LargeMidCap index (sub-index of the S&P BSE AllCap index).
      The four new indices launched under the umbrella of S&P BSE Factor Indices are:
      • S&P BSE Enhanced Value Index
      • S&P BSE Low Volatility Index
      • S&P BSE Momentum Index
      • S&P BSE Quality Index
      For non-market factors - 4 indices launched by Asia IndexThe S&P BSE Factor Indices are designed to include non-market factors such as value,momentum, quality and low volatility using a transparent and rules-based methodology while ensuring reasonable liquidity.
      How these indices will work?
      • S&P BSE Enhanced Value Index – It is designed to measure the performance of companies with valuations based on ratios like book value-to-price, earnings-to-price and sales-to-price
      • S&P BSE Low Volatility Index – It comprises companies with the least amount of volatility.
      • S&P BSE Momentum Index – It is designed to measure the performance of those companies that exhibit persistence in their relative performance.
      • S&P BSE Quality Index – It will track high-quality stocks based on returns on equity, accruals ratio and financial leverage ratio.
      These indices will be reviewed once in six months.

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