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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Current Affairs - 31 March 2016

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General Affairs 

Creative Approach Can Help Realise India-EU Trade Pact: PM Modi
  • Creative Approach Can Help Realise India-EU Trade Pact: PM ModiBRUSSELS:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said a creative approach is required to advance the stalled India-EU talks for a mutual free trade agreement that would benefit both the sides.

    Ahead of the 13th India-European Union Summit in Brussels today, PM Modi said: "I feel that a progressive path and creative mindset to the India-EU Trade and Investment Agreement can enable all the European countries, including Belgium, to benefit from India's strong economic growth."

    Addressing mediapersons, with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel alongside him, he said: "For India, EU is one of our strongest strategic partners. Trade, Investment, and technology partnership between India and the EU would be one of the focus areas of our discussions."

    Among other issues on the agenda, the two sides will address the ongoing negotiations for a Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) with an aim to instil some political impetus to the stalled talks.

    The free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the EU were called off last year in response to the bloc's ban on sale of around 700 Indian pharma products.

    In July last year, the EU had banned over 700 pharma products of GVK Biosciences, Hyderabad, for alleged manipulation of clinical trials.

    The last round of the FTA talks, started in 2007, was held in May 2013 without any breakthroughs owing to EU concerns on high tariffs on cars and wines, while India's concerns are in the area of services.

    India's exports to the European Union in 2014-15 contracted around 4.5 per cent to $49.3 billion, while imports fell over 2 per cent to $48.8 billion.

    Referring to his earlier meeting along with Michel with Belgian chief executives, PM Modi invited the Belgian government and companies to invest in India's ambitious development projects like Digital India, Start-Up India and Skill India.

    "Belgian businesses can make their global supply chains more cost effective by manufacturing in India," he said.

    "India's goal to modernize infrastructure, especially railways and ports, and building of 100 plus smart cities also presents a unique investment opportunity for the Belgian companies," he added.

Corruption Rising, Return Anti-Corruption Branch To Us: Arvind Kejriwal
  • Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's Security Stepped Up After Threat Call
    NEW DELHI:  Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal today sought the return of the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) to the AAP government, saying corruption was rising in the national capital.

    Addressing the Delhi Assembly, the Aam Aadmi Party leader also called for "cooperative federalism" in the city and sought the central government's help to run the capital better.

    "We need cooperative federalism for Delhi," he said, listing specific demands including the return to his government of the ACB which was taken away from the AAP government last year.

    He said corruption and bribery were again showing a rise in Delhi.

    Mr Kejriwal also urged Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to either return or approve the 16 or so bills pending with him.

    "If they cannot be approved, please return them to us," he said.

    The chief minister also sought the central government's help to take control of land held by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) so that the AAP government can build hospitals in the city.

    Mr Kejriwal's speech was welcomed by loud thumping of desks by AAP legislators. Even the three BJP members backed his plea for a better understanding with the central government.

    "We support the chief minister on this issue," said Vijender Gupta, who heads the three-member Bharatiya Janata Party group in the 70-seat house where the AAP commands 67 legislators.

    The AAP and central governments have been locked in a bitter feud over issues of governance ever since Mr Kejriwal led his party to a sweeping win in February last year.

In Talks With Baba Ramdev For Patanjali Food Park: Devendra Fadnavis
  • In Talks With Baba Ramdev For Patanjali Food Park: Devendra FadnavisMUMBAI:  The Maharashtra government is in talks with yoga guru Baba Ramdev for setting up a Patanjali food park at Mihan in Nagpur, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said today.

    The chief minister said this while answering a supplementary query raised by a member during the Question Hour in the state Assembly.

    "There has not been any land allotted to Patanjali in Mihan as yet. But, we are in talks with them. They have a highly successful food park at Haridwar, which is a Rs 5,000 crore business, which helps farmers directly," Mr Fadnavis said.

    He said Ramdev's company has shown intention of setting up the Food Park at Mihan and Patanjali would be given land if all technicalities are worked out.

    Mr Fadnavis also told the House his government has sent notices to 30 entities in the past 17 months who have taken land but have not started their industrial units yet.

    Out of which land of eight has been taken back, he said.

    He said the government plans to dedicate 500 acre space to develop Agro Processing Industries at Mihan and special incentives will be provided for the purpose.

    The multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Mihan (Nagpur) is the biggest development project currently underway in Nagpur in terms of investments.

    Congress' Manikrao Thakre then said that for Agro Processing units to come up, the government will have to offer competitive electricity rates and better facilities to industries, compared to neighbouring states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

    In his response, Mr Fadnavis said the electricity rates in SEZ are already lower than adjoining states and that Energy Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule is working on a proposal to provide cheap power to industries in Vidarbha, Marathwada,

    North Maharashtra, and backward parts of Western Maharashtra. "The state cabinet will soon give a nod to this proposal," the chief minister said, adding that in the Agro Processing zone, his government will develop training centres and undertake extension activities to promote sustainable Agro Industries.

Hyderabad Varsity Students' Union Urges President To Sack Vice Chancellor
  • Hyderabad Varsity Students' Union Urges President To Sack Vice Chancellor
    HYDERABAD:  The students' union of the University of Hyderabad has urged President Pranab Mukherjee to sack Vice Chancellor P Appa Rao to restore peace in the university.

    In a letter to the president, who is the Visitor of the university, the union said Mr Rao was an accused in the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula and also unleashed brutal violence on the students.

    Students' union president Zuhail KP told reporters that they sought the president's intervention to save the university from further damage.

    He brought to the notice of the president that the two-member fact finding committee appointed by the Human Resource Development Ministry to investigate the disciplinary action on five Dalit research scholars which led to the suicide of Mr Vemula pointed out that the university administration under Mr Rao mishandled the case.

    Mr Rao was booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and for abetment to suicide.

    The high court did not grant him bail while the judicial commission formed is still probing the matter, the letter said.

    It was also brought to the president's notice that Mr Rao, instead of waiting for the judicial commission's report, showed utter contempt for the judicial process by cancelling his leave and resuming office on March 22 with the help of some teachers loyal to him and ABVP students.

    Mr Zuhail said that when the students protested his resumption of office, he "unleashed brutal violence on the protesting students to levels unheard of in the university history".

    Telangana Police arrested 24 students, two professors and one media person after a baton charge and booked many others including women.

    The letter alleged that Mr Rao with the help of 'loyal' non-teaching staff closed the hostel messes, cut off water supply and disconnected internet.

Amateur Astronomers Capture Footage Of A Space Rock Crashing Into Jupiter
  • Amateur Astronomers Capture Footage Of A Space Rock Crashing Into JupiterJupiter, the gas giant that may have obliterated most of our solar system's original set of planets, got a taste of its own medicine a couple of weeks back: Slate's Phil Plait reports that a small comet or asteroid appears to have collided with the planet March 17.

    Serendipitously, the impact was captured on film by Austrian amateur astronomer Gerrit Kernbauer, who observed the event with a 20-centimeter telescope. It was also caught on camera by John McKeon, an amateur stargazer using a 28-centimeter telescope near Dublin.

    "I was surprised to learn I had this data," McKeon told 
    Mashable. McKeon's video was sent to Plait after he called for more recordings of the event on Twitter. "I only realized it after a Facebook update on March 28 about an observer in Austria (Gerrit Kernbauer) seeing an impact on Jupiter," McKeon said.

    Plait explains in his post that the object - which remains unidentified, but was likely either a meteor or a comet - may have hit Jupiter with incredible force, because of how strong the massive planet's gravitational pull is and how physics works:
    "Given how brief the flash was, and how bright, I'm sure it wasn't terribly big, probably in the tens-of-meters wide range. I know that sounds small, but remember, Jupiter has ferocious gravity, and velocity is critical here! The energy released by an object slamming into another depends linearly on the mass (double the mass, double the energy), but on the square of the velocity: double the velocity, quadruple the energy."
    The average velocity of an object impacting Jupiter will be five times greater than an object colliding with Earth, meaning that the impact energy will easily be 25 times as high - which is why even a rock smaller than a football field can make a splash visible to amateur telescopes from over 400 million miles away. In fact, similar flashes on Jupiter have been caused by rocks just 10 meters (32 feet) across.

    It's likely that Jupiter has impacts like these pretty frequently. Some scientists even think that the planet protects Earth from devastating collisions by flinging space debris out of the solar system with its powerful gravitational pull. But you could also argue that Jupiter's incredible gravity, which kept rocks around it from forming into new planets, is responsible for the very existence of the asteroid belt. And it's possible that the very same gravity that keeps some space rocks out of our path actually sends others right into our back yard.

    In any case, scientists definitely want to know more about how often Jupiter has run-ins with asteroids and comets. And amateur stellar sleuths can help out in a big way.

Business Affairs 

Sensex zooms 438 points on dovish Fed, Nifty up 138 points

  • Sensex up 438 pts on dovish Fed; Nifty above 7,700Market benchmark Sensex surged by 438 points today to snap a two-session losing run, tracking firm global trend after the US Federal Reserve softened its stance on rate hikes, while value-buying in recent losers also helped the index post biggest single-day rally in nearly a month.
    The 50-share NSE Nifty reclaimed the 7,700-mark by gaining 138.20 points or 1.82 per cent to 7,735.20. Intra-day, it shuttled between 7,741.95 and 7,643.45.
    Sentiment turned bullish after other Asian markets rose following a strong Wall Street closing as the US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signalled that a rate hike was not likely to come before June.
    Moreover, covering-up of short positions before tomorrow's expiry of March series in derivatives segment and hopes of a rate cut by Reserve Bank at the monetary policy review on Tuesday, accelerated buying further.
    The 30-share Sensex after opening on a strong footing to recapture the crucial 25,000-mark, continued upward journey and hit the day's high of 25,358.84 points before settling 438.12 points or 1.76 per cent to close at 25,338.58 -- its highest closing since January 6.
    The gauge had lost over 437 points in the last two days.
    Tata Steel emerged as the best performer and closed 6.75 per cent up at Rs 324.40 after government extended the safeguard duty on some steel imports by two years till March 2018, to protect domestic industry.
    Shares of Sun Pharma ended 2.21 per cent higher at Rs 811.60 as the drug major forayed into Japanese prescription market by acquiring 14 brands from Swiss drug firm Novartis for over Rs 1,940 crore.
    Gains in ICICI Bank, Lupin, Tata Motors, SBI, GAIL, BHEL, Adani Ports, Axis Bank, Asian Paints, Bajaj Auto, L&T, Hero MotoCorp, ONGC and Dr Reddy's too supported the rally.
    Among the 30-Sensex constituents, 26 stocks ended with gains while four, HDFC, M&M, Bharti Airtel and Maruti Suzuki, fell.
    Sector-wise, BSE realty index gained most by rising 3.85 per cent followed by bankex (3.13 pc), metal (3.06 pc), capital goods (2.73 pc), power (2.53 pc), PSU (2.33 pc), healthcare (1.99 pc) and oil&gas (1.98 pc).
    The broader markets too displayed a firm trend as retail investors widened their positions with BSE small-cap index rising 1.87 per cent and mid-cap gaining 1.81 per cent.
    Meanwhile, foreign funds continued buying spree as they bought shares worth Rs 513.45 crore yesterday as per provisional data.
    Globally, Asian markets, including Hong Kong and Singapore ended 2.15 per cent and 2.77 per cent higher, while Japan's Nikkei fell 1.31 per cent. European markets were also in better shape in early deals.

    Sun Pharma buys 14 drug brands from Novartis in Japan

    • In a $293 million cash deal India's Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. has agreed to buy 14 established prescription brands from Novartis AG and Novartis Pharma AG in Japan, the Indian company said.
      In a statement issued late Tuesday, the company said a wholly owned subsidiary of Sun Pharma will acquire the portfolio consisting of 14 established prescription brands from Novartis for a cash consideration of $293 million.
      "These brands have combined annualised revenues of approximately $160 million and address medical conditions across several therapeutic areas," the company said.
      "Under the terms of the agreements, Novartis will continue to distribute these brands, for a certain period, pending transfer of all marketing authorisations to Sun Pharma's subsidiary."
      The acquired brands will be marketed by a reliable and established local marketing partner under the Sun Pharma label. The partner will also be responsible for distribution of the brands.
      "Japan is a market of strategic interest for us. This acquisition marks Sun Pharma's foray into the Japanese prescription market and provides us an opportunity to build a larger product portfolio in the future," Dilip Shanghvi, managing director, Sun Pharma was quoted as saying in the statement.
      As per the December-2015 IMS Data, the size of the Japanese pharmaceutical market was estimated at $73 billion, accounting for over seven percent of the $1 trillion global pharmaceutical market.

      Online car sales platform Droom launches physical car inspection app

      • To boost buyer's confidence and bring transparency in used car buying, online automobile transactional platform Droom launched mobile-based auto inspection solutions with Jagdish Khattar-owned Carnation Auto on Tuesday.
        The mobile-based auto inspection solution, ECO, will lead to car inspection app for inspections, verification, certification and valuation at a click by credited auto experts.
        Droom's partnership with Carnation will also allow ECO users access to Carnation's extensive network of workshops and skilled technicians.
        Speaking on the launch, Jagdish Khattar, Managing Director, Carnation Auto said, "Used car sales continue to grow exponentially in India. The ECO app has the potential to reduce information asymmetry in pre-owned car transactions. Carnation being the leader in the car inspection space, will power all the Droom products across India.  Together we will take selling and buying of used cars to the next level."
        Through the move, automobile technicians can leverage the ECO app to increase their consumer outreach and visibility. Equipped with a smart device, technical skills and the mobility to travel from one place to another, technicians can become ECO certified Ninjas through the tutorials on the app and make earnings of up to Rs 30,000 per month.
        Sandeep Agarwal, CEO and Founder, Droom, said, "Unlike US, Western Europe and Japan, India is a low-trust market in general and buyers for used automobiles suffer from information asymmetry and moral hazard. In India, buying a used vehicle was quite painful and loaded with hassles. It's now our commitment to increase trust and transparency for used automobile transactions in India with a comprehensive and scientific approach in inspection and verification service."
        Droom is a leading consumer internet company in India with over 41,000 sellers and more than 125,000 listings. The company has over a million downloads for its mobile apps.

      100% FDI allowed in e-commerce, with riders

      • Govt approves 100% FDI in e-commerce sector
        Government on Tuesday allowed 100 per cent FDI through automatic route in most of e-commerce retailing, a development that will boost domestic as well as foreign players like Flipkart and Amazon.
        While the decision to allow 100 per cent FDI in market place e-retail -- where the company only provides platform for buyer and seller to connect -- will help domestic players like Flipkart and Snapdeal to attract more foreign investment, it will also open the doors for the foreign retailers like Alibaba to set shop easily.
        Although the decision was widely welcomed by e-retailers, traders body CAIT strongly opposed the decision. IT industry body Nasscom said 25 per cent cap may prove to be "restrictive".
        Snapdeal said the norms will provide clarity to India's fast growing e-commerce industry.
        As per the guidelines issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) on FDI in e-commerce, foreign direct investment (FDI) has not been permitted in inventory-based model of e-commerce.
        DIPP in a Press Note said that e-commerce marketplace may provide support services to sellers in respect of warehousing, logistics, order fulfilment, call centre, payment collection and other services.
        However, such entities will not exercise ownership over the inventory. "Such an ownership over the inventory will render the business into inventory based model."
        As per the norms, an e-commerce firm will not be permitted to sell more than 25 per cent of total sales from one vendor or its group companies.
        "E-commerce entities providing marketplace will not directly or indirectly influence the sale price of goods or services and shall maintain level playing field," the guidelines said.
        Tax consultancy firm PwC said the cap of 25 per cent on sales by a vendor on marketplace will ensure a broadbasing of vendors for a true marketplace.
        To bring more clarity, the DIPP has also defined the term 'e-commerce', 'marketplace model', 'inventory based model' and 'e-commerce entity'.

        Vijay Mallya's example highlights once again how banks run into legal hurdles while chasing corporate defaulters.

        • Three years after staking claim to Kingfisher House, State Bank of India (SBI) is struggling to auction the Mumbai property to recover a part of the money Kingfisher Airlines owes to a bank consortium led by SBI. But disputes refuse to go away. The municipality, for instance, has demanded Rs 67.17 lakh as property tax dues. The Income Tax (IT) department, too, has been quick to claim the property. SBI is holding the auction with the department.
          There is another Mallya property, a villa in Goa, that the SBI-led bank consortium is still to lay its hands on. Two weeks ago, SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya, under fire for not doing enough to go after Mallya, took on the Goa collector. "This person held eight hearings and we are still not in possession of it," she said. Help from a chief metropolitan magistrate or a district collector is a must for taking possession of assets under the SARFAESI Act, implemented one-and-a-half decades ago to allow bankers to sell assets faster without approaching debt recovery tribunals, or DRTs, or civil courts.
          However, it is still easy for a loan defaulter to stop banks from taking over his or her assets. For example, for the past three years, lenders to Kingfisher have been fighting close to two dozen court cases. There have been 500 hearings and more than 180 adjournments. This is clearly frustrating for bankers such as Bhattacharya.
          Kingfisher, with an outstanding debt of Rs 9,000 crore, is just one case. The total money stuck in bad loans was a staggering Rs 4 lakh crore at the end of March 2015. The figure was Rs 1 lakh crore just five years ago. And given the difficulties banks are facing in recovering their money, the amount is expected to reach unimaginable proportions (See Backlog of Debt Recovery Tribunals).
          The recovery starts with sale of low-hanging fruit such as deposits, pledged shares, bonds and other assets. But even this does not go through without a legal challenge. "Corporate defaulters are always litigious," says a banker. While banks in the Kingfisher case were quick to sell pledged shares worth Rs 1, 244 crore in two group companies, Mallya approached the Bombay High Court for declaring the pledge agreement as illegal. Similarly, the banks' move to invoke the SARFAESI Act didn't yield result for three years. " SARFAESI has its flaws. While it gives banks the right to auction property, there are claims and counter claims," says Shishir Mehta, partner at Khaitan & Company.
          DRTs, too, are over-burdened. The average time taken by a DRT to dispose of a case is four-five years. "The cases, especially the big ones, get stuck," says Mehta. When SBI approached the DRT for a stake in the $75-million separation fee that Diageo had agreed to pay Mallya, arresting Mallya and impounding his passport, the judge took up just the first issue, leaving the other two for later. Many, however, question the DRT's jurisdiction to take up the other two matters.
          Another big question is at what stage public sector banks should involve investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for arresting the defaulter or impounding his passport. "Wilful default is a trigger point as this means diversion of funds. The bank should immediately seek a forensic audit and alert investigating agencies," says a former chairman of a PSU bank.
          Abhijit Joshi, the founder of Veritas Legal, differs. "Wilful default invokes civil remedies such as no future bank funding and capital market restrictions. It doesn't mean criminal remedies," he says. The government is, in fact, considering a move to declare wilful default a criminal offence. Many experts say banks themselves avoid involving CBI/ED because of corruption in giving of loans. "If a bank reaches out to enforcement agencies, the prosecution will lie with the state and not the bank," says Joshi.
          Also, one reason personal and corporate guarantees are disputed in courts is that the agreements are not tightly worded. In case of Kingfisher, too, Mallya approached the Bombay High Court for declaring the guarantees null and void. He later claimed them to be limited. According to him, the maximum corporate guarantee is for Rs 1,601.43 crore, while the personal guarantee is limited to Rs 248.97 crore. "There has to be a basis for accepting personal guarantee. The personal assets of the promoter should be specified, verified and monitored in detail," says Reshmi Khurana, Managing Director and Head, South Asia, Kroll Advisory, which specialises in forensic accounting litigation. No wonder Mallya's bankers are staring at his Rajya Sabha affidavit showing Rs 615 crore net worth. Similarly, United Breweries (Holding), the corporate guarantor, is valued by the market at Rs 128 crore. At the time the guarantee was given, it was around Rs 2,000 crore. The group holding company reported a revenue of Rs 624 crore and a net profit of Rs 30 crore for the year ended March 31, 2015. Clearly, banks will not be able to recover much by invoking personal and corporate guarantees.
          It's not only the defaulters that the banks have to struggle with. Unsecured creditors, too, create hurdles, as they also want a share in the money recovered. The Companies Act has given unsecured lenders the right to call for winding up the company if unpaid dues are Rs 500 or more. Since they don't have secured assets, they approach DRTs and civil courts. Some defaulters declare their companies sick to avoid SARFAESI and DRT proceedings.
          There are expectations that the proposed bankruptcy code will result in speedy resolution of these cases. 

        General Awareness

        Manohar Parrikar flags off India’s first indigenous Sonar Dome

          • Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has flagged offIndia’s first indigenous composites sonar dome, a ship’s underwater eyes and ears.
            • The first indigenous composites bow mounted sonar dome was dedicated to the nation during Def Expo 2016 in Goa. The sonar dome will be supplied to Mazgaon Docks, Mumbaifor use in the warships of Indian Navy.Manohar Parrikar flags off India
            • The sonar dome has been designed by Research & Development Establishment (Engineers), a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratory based in Pune and manufactured by composites manufacturing company Kineco Ltd, Pilerne, Goa.
            • Realising large composites structure with multi-functional requirements, complex geometry and high structural rigidity with acoustic transparency was possible due to the Vacuum Assisted Resin Transfer Moulding(VARTM) process technology with built-in process monitoring capability.
            • The sonar dome will now pave the way for realising more ambitious naval structures such as entire ship hulls as well as land based and aerospace applications.
            Sonar domes:
            • Sonar domes, which are placed on the hulls of submarinesand surface ships, are a key component that house electronic equipment used for detection, navigation, and ranging.
            • They are particularly useful in anti-submarine warfare.
            • Sonar domes cover the Sonar arrays and protect the electronics and sensors. The sonar dome has to be structurally sound as well as acoustically transparent.
            Manohar Parrikar:
            • Parrikar is the currentDefence Minister of India from the BharatiyaJanata Party.
            • He is the first IIT graduate to serve as Chief Minister of an Indian state.
            • He is a member of the RajyaSabha from Uttar Pradesh.

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