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Current Affairs - 18 March 2016

General Affairs 

President, Prime Minister To Witness Indian Air Force's Firepower Tomorrow
  • President, Prime Minister To Witness Indian Air Force's Firepower TomorrowNEW DELHI:  President Pranab Mukherjee, the supreme commander of India's armed forces, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will witness the firepower of the Indian Air Force on Friday as 181 aircraft showcase their capability to fight a war at the Pokharan firing range in Rajasthan, a state bordering Pakistan.

    The exercise will show India's capacity to "deter aggression", the IAF said.

    A major highlight of the exercise will be the display of the IAF's capability to operate day and night as a significant achievement for the force which did not have this ability last time India got into an armed conflict with Pakistan at Kargil.

    The exercise will include combat manoeuvres and live firing of air-to-ground and air-to-air precision weapons by fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters.

    Tejas, the indigenous fighter jet that won global appreciation at the recent Bahrain air show, will for the first time display its firing capabilities.

    Also on public display for the first time will be the Astra air-to-air missile, being developed by DRDO, and the Akash missile.

    The event titled "Iron Fist 2016" will see the participation of 181 aircraft, 103 of which are fighter planes.

    The demonstrations include firing of lethal ordnance, combat and combat support demonstrations.

    The last Iron Fist held in 2013 was the IAF's first day-night exercise, and more than 100 aircraft and 30 different weapon platforms were showcased.

    The exercise is aimed at displaying network-centric operations capabilities of the IAF.

Allah Has 99 Names, None Stand For Violence: PM Modi At World Sufi Forum
  • Allah Has 99 Names, None Stand For Violence: PM Modi At World Sufi Forum
    NEW DELHI:  Denouncing terrorism at the World Sufi Forum today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Allah has 99 names and none of them stands for violence. And without naming Pakistan, he said, "When spirit and love of Sufism and not violent force of terrorism flows across the border, this region will be the paradise on earth that Amir Khusro spoke about."

    Terrorism, the Prime Minister said, "divides and destroys us".

    "When terrorism and extremism have become the most destruction of our times, the message of Sufism has global relevance," he said at the inauguration of the four-day meet.

    The reach of terrorism, he said, is growing and the toll is rising every year. "Last year alone, over 90 countries experienced terrorist attacks... Parents in 100 countries live with daily pain of their children lost to the battlefield of Syria."

    But the impact of terrorism, he said, cannot be fully captured in statistics alone. "It is changing the way we live. There are forces and groups that are instruments of state policy and design."

    team of Pakistani investigators are arriving in India on March 27 to collect evidence connected to the terror attack at the Pathankot air force base that took place in January. While India has cited evidence about Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammad's involvement in the attack, Pakistan, in a break from tradition, has not straightaway dismissed the origin of the attackers. 

    In the backdrop of the Bharat Mata ki Jai slogan controversy, the Prime Minister also underscored the importance of maintaining the diversity and pluralism in Indian society.

    "All our people, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, believers, non-believers, are an integral part of India... Diversity is a basic reality of nature and source of richness of a society; and, it should not be a cause of discord," he added.

    It is this diversity, he pointed out, that has given birth to Sufism. "Sufism blossomed in India's openness and pluralism. It engaged with her spiritual tradition and evolved its own Indian ethos."

    More than 200 spiritual leaders, scholars and academicians are participating in the four-day event, which is being organised by All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), the apex body of Sufi Dargahs in India.

BJP Announces Fresh List Of 194 Candidates For West Bengal Elections
  • BJP Announces Fresh List Of 194 Candidates For West Bengal ElectionsNEW DELHI:  Former state BJP chief Rahul Sinha and actor Rupa Ganguly of teleserial 'Mahabharat' fame figure among 194 candidates whose names were announced by the party today for the West Bengal Assembly polls.

    The announcement was made following a meeting of the party's Central Election Committee (CEC) attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, among others.

    The party, however, did not announce its candidates for Kerala due to 'some pending issues'.

    Union Minister and CEC secretary JP Nadda said the party has given representation to "all sections" of society in list. He said young candidates have been preferred and 26 women figured among the candidates announced so far.

    With today's announcement, BJP has declared its candidates for 246 seats in the 294-member state Assembly.

    Mr Sinha will contest from Jorasanko seat in Kolkata, while Ms Ganguly, who is the party's state women's wing chief, will try her luck from Howrah North.

    Former state party youth wing president Amitava Roy will be in the fray from Barrackpore and actor Suman Banerjee from English Bazar, Mr Nadda said.

    About the list of candidates for Kerala, he said, the CEC has approved nominees for several seats but it will released after completion of certain formalities.

    Sources said the state BJP leadership had released a list of candidates for 22 seats a few days ago, making the task a "little difficult" for the central leadership. It is not clear if all the names announced by the state unit will find favour with the Party's central leadership.

    Kerala BJP chief Kummanam Rajasekharan told a press conference that his party's prospect in the state, where it currently has no legislator, is "bright" as people are fed up with the ruling Congress-led UDF and its main challenger is the CPI(M)-led LDF.

    He also referred to the recent incidents of violent attacks on party workers allegedly by CPI(M) activists, and accused the ruling Congress of protecting the accused.

    Former Kerala BJP president V Muraleedharan claimed BJP had stitched together a "formidable alliance" that includes Ezhava outfit Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, and it will do well in the polls.

    Kerala goes to the polls on May 16, while West Bengal will have elections in six phases between April 4 and May 5.

Chhagan Bhujbal Sent To 14-Day Judicial Custody For Money Laundering
  • Chhagan Bhujbal Sent To 14-Day Judicial Custody For Money Laundering
    MUMBAI: Former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal was sent to 14 days judicial custody by a Special Court of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in Mumbai today.

    He was arrested late on Monday by the Enforcement Directorate and sent to two days custody of the investigating agency, which is probing money laundering and other cases against him.

    Shortly after the Special Court ruled, Mr Bhujbal was sent to the Arthur Road Central Jail where his nephew Samir Bhujbal is also lodged since his arrest on February 1 in related cases.

    Mr Bhujbal had earlier pleaded innocence in the cases pertaining to the construction of Maharashtra Sadan, a government guesthouse in New Delhi and the Kalina (Mumbai) land grabbing cases.

    In a major embarrassment to the Nationalist Congress Party to which he belongs, Mr Bhujbal was interrogated by ED officials for nearly 11 hours on Monday and then placed under arrest for alleged corruption.
    The ED action came after over a month after his nephew Samir Bhujbal was similarly summoned in February and arrested by the ED.

    Later last month, ED questioned Pankaj Bhujbal, a legislator, and allowed him to go even as his father Chhagan Bhujbal cried foul. The NCP termed it "political vendetta".

    The ED's probe follows a Bombay High Court ruling in January when it sought progress reports from the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau and the ED within four weeks on their investigation against the Bhujbals.

    The ED had conducted searches twice at nine premises belonging to the Bhujbal trio and others and subsequently served attachment orders on three prime properties linked to the Bhujbal family members worth over Rs 280 crore in Mumbai.

    Simultaneously, the State Anti-Corruption Bureau lodged a chargesheet against the three Bhujbals and 14 others in the Maharashtra Sadan case.

IIT Fee May Be Revised From Rs 90,000 To Rs 3 Lakh Soon
  • IIT Fee May Be Revised From Rs 90,000 To Rs 3 Lakh SoonNEW DELHI:  An IIT panel today approved a proposal for a three-fold hike in the annual fees all institutes.

    If approved, the annual fee will rise to Rs 3 lakh in comparison to the present amount of Rs 90,000.

    However, the final decision would require the nod of Education Minister Smriti Irani.

    Another key recommendation the Standing Committee of IIT Council (SCIC) made was that the proposed new entrance examination designed to test the aptitude conducted by a National Authority of Test (NAT) would be held from 2017 onwards.

    Final decision in this regard too rests with Ms Irani, it is learnt.

    Sources told Press Trust of India that the SCIC, a body comprising IIT directors and senior officials, in a meeting adopted the report presented earlier by a sub-committee headed by IIT Bombay Director Devang Khakhar which had suggested hiking fees to Rs 3 lakh and also recommended multiple sources of financing for the IITs.

    "However, the sub-committee has been again asked to consider if this fee hike should also be applied to students studying at Post-Graduate level as they are studying on a fellowship basis," a source said.

    If the recommendations of the SCIC are accepted, even the fees of foreign students would be raised from the current annual USD 4000 to USD 10,000, they added.

    However, the committee has also emphasised that every student should be provided educational loans at an interest- free basis and without collateral under the Vidyalakshmi scheme, sources said.

    Another nod that the committee is learnt to have given is regarding a proposal to hold IIT admission tests in eight countries abroad to attract the best of foreign students.

    Sources said the panel also approved the recommendations of a report prepared by a committee of eminent persons headed by Ashok Mishra for holding an aptitude test conducted by a National Testing Service, on the basis of which candidates will be shortlisted for taking JEE (Advanced) for entry to IITs.

    However, the committee has recommended that the test should be conducted from next year onwards and not this year.

    The Ashok Mishra committee had focused on reducing the dependence on coaching institutions by IIT aspirants.

    It is desired by the committee that coaching by best quality teachers for such exams should be provided through online platforms by the government, reducing the need that candidates may feel for private tuitions, a source said.

Business Affairs 

    ONGC eyes tie-up with foreign service providers to boost output

    • ONGC eyes tie-up with foreign service providers to boost output
      State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd, India's biggest explorer, plans to enter into partnerships with overseas oilfield service providers to boost output from ageing oil and gas fields, its chairman said.
      Under the terms of the tie-up being discussed, firms such as Schlumberger NV and Halliburton Co will invest capital and share technical expertise in stagnant but producing ONGC hydrocarbon fields, D.K. Sarraf told Reuters.
      If the foreign partners are able to increase output, they will be paid a pre-determined fee on each additional barrel of crude oil produced, making it the first time India has adopted this kind of agreement, he said.
      ONGC, which accounts for half of India's total oil and gas production, has often been criticised by investors for failing to arrest a steady decline in its output. Most of its major fields are more than 25 years old.
      India imports almost 77 percent of its total crude oil requirement and the government is pushing to reduce crude oil and natural gas imports to between 65 and 67 percent in the next six years.
      Global oilfield service providers are looking for orders from India as drilling and exploration contracts elsewhere in the world are fast drying up following a plunge in oil prices.
      "In this low crude oil regime, we have decided to take advantage of the lower cost of services to enhance our capacity," Sarraf said.
      Despite a 60 percent fall in global crude oil prices in the past year-and-a-half, ONGC has maintained its capital spending and has spent about $4.5 billion so far in the current fiscal year to end-March to bolster production.
      Besides Schlumberger and Halliburton, ONGC is in talks with Weatherford International and Baker Hughes Inc., among others, Sarraf said. Schlumberger declined to comment. Halliburton, Weatherford and Baker Hughes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
      Sarraf said ONGC is working to identify fields where output has come to a standstill after years of operation, but which the service providers see as offering potential.
      Partnerships are being considered for assets such as the Mehsana field in the western state of Gujarat and ONGC's oldest asset in eastern Assam state, said an ONGC executive who did not wish to be named.
      Sarraf declined to comment on the timeline for signing the partnerships.

      Sensex ends flat, Nifty above 7,500 post US Federal policy; Lupin top loser

      • Sensex ends flat, Nifty above 7,500 post US Federal policy; Lupin top loserThe S&P BSE Sensex wiped off all its gains to end in red on Thursday, while broader CNX Nifty managed to hold above its key 7,500-mark post US Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting that concluded on Wednesday. 
        The headline indices turned flat tracking negative trend seen in European markets even as the Fed decided not to hike US interest rates. Fresh projections also showed policymakers now expect two hikes by the end of 2016, half the number seen in December.
        The 30-share index ended the day at 24,677, down 5.11 points, while broad-based 50-share index quoted 7,512, up 13.80 points at close.
        Market breadth remained positive with 17 of the 30 Sensex components ending the day in green.
        Lupin was the worst performing stock on both the benchmark indices and shed over 4 per cent. 
        The Fed statement boosted risk appetite and lifted sentiment across the board, with Asian stocks and oil prices gaining from the potential for more money to continue flowing into equities and commodities, rather being lured by higher US rates.
        "Previously dollar was appreciating and that is what was bothering us. But right now, these positive inflows should continue and help rupee", said Ashu Madan, president of equity broking at Religare Securities.
        The rupee rose to as much as 66.80 per dollar, its highest since January 13, from its Wednesday close of 67.22.
        Commodity-linked stocks such as Vedanta and NMDC rose 2.5 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively in intraday trade.
        State-owned oil companies Oil India, Indian Oil Corp and Bharat Petroleum Corp gained up to 5.67 per cent after the consortium signed energy deals with Russia's Rosneft.
        Mphasis rose 5.10 per cent on a report that PE firm Blackstone emerged as the strongest contender to buy the IT services company from Hewlett Packard.
        Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Composite added 1.20 per cent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 1.21 per cent , while Japan's Nikkei bucked the trend to lose 0.22 per cent.

        Arun Jaitley says difficult to accept Congress demand to cap GST rate

        • Arun Jaitley says difficult to accept Congress demand to cap GST rate
          Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday that it would be difficult to accept the opposition Congress party's demand to cap goods and services tax (GST) rate in a constitution amendment bill stuck in parliament.
          The proposed sales tax, country's biggest revenue shake-up since independence in 1947, seeks to replace a slew of federal and state levies, transforming the nation of 1.2 billion people into a customs union.
          The Congress party, the original author of the tax reform, has opposed the bill, calling it "flawed". It wants Jaitley to cap the rate of GST at less than 20 per cent.

          Airtel to buy Videocon's spectrum in 6 circles for Rs 4,428 crore

          • Airtel to buy Videocon's spectrum in 6 circlesTelecom major Bharti Airtel today said it will acquire Videocon Telecommunications's spectrum in six circles in the 1800 MHz Band for a consideration of Rs 4,428 crore.
            "Bharti Airtel has entered into a definitive agreement with Videocon Telecommunications Ltd (VTL) to acquire, at an aggregate consideration of Rs 4,428 crore, rights to use 2x5 MHz spectrum in 1800 MHz band for six circles," the company said in a BSE filing.
            The six circles are Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, UP (East), UP (West) and Gujarat.
            The aforesaid spectrum is valid up to December 18, 2032.
            The closing of the transaction is subject to satisfaction of standard conditions.
            Reacting to the news, Bharti Airtel's shares were trading 2.89 per cent higher at Rs 349.45 on BSE.
            Yesterday, Idea Cellular and Videocon Telecommunications had mutually agreed to call off their Rs 3,310-crore spectrum deal for two telecom circles.
            Idea in November had announced to buy airwaves held by Videocon in these two circles for Rs 3,310 crore, which was billed as the first spectrum trading deal of the country.
            Videocon had acquired spectrum in 1800 MHz band, known as 2G spectrum, in these two service areas for a total of Rs 1,329 crore in November 2012 and made upfront payment of Rs 438.57 crore to the government.
            Meanwhile, Idea said it continues to aggressively launch its high speed mobile broadband 4G LTE services. The company today also launched its 4G LTE services in the 10th telecom service area of Maharashtra and Goa, from Nagpur city.

            India to see highest rise in employment in 2016: Survey

            • India to see highest rise in employment in 2016: Survey
              Buoyed by positive economic sentiment, employment scenario in India is set to move up and the country is expected to see the highest rise in hiring process this year among Asia/Australia region, a survey says.
              According to the ninth annual Global Business and Spending Monitor survey conducted by American Express in partnership with CFO Research, 83 per cent of Indian executives expect their companies to hire more and 52 per cent respondents expect employment to grow by over 10 per cent.
              "Sustained high level of optimism towards growth will see India as a bright spot for hiring as companies get ready to add to the government's initiative towards improving job-oriented skills in the country," American Express Global Corporate Payments Country Business Head Saru Kaushal said.
              The survey based on sampling of senior finance and corporate executives from large companies around the world said that globally financial executives expect their companies' headcount to increase by 9 per cent on an average in 2016, largely owing to decent rise in recruitments by companies in the US, Mexico, and India (13 per cent each).
              However, talent crunch is expected to affect the recruitment drive of Indian companies going forward.
              "7 out of 10 Indian executives polled that their companies' performance goal has been impeded by inability to hire requisite positions in sales and marketing," the report said, adding that 60 per cent of respondents say their companies have been affected by difficulty in hiring more skilled and specialised workers.
              Moreover, half of the respondents find it difficult to fill positions for IT staff, administration and support staff and offshore or outsourced positions.
              The survey further noted that around 60 per cent of Indian executives expect to raise wages or salaries in order to attract or retain employees, while 53 per cent would be looking at improving the working environment and rotate key employees through different functions or departments in order to retain them.
              "From improving working environment to rotating employees through various departments, companies are planning to introduce measures in this direction and trying to keep their attrition rates at the lowest levels," Kaushal added.

            General Awareness

            India ranked 118 in Happiness Index

              • The World Happiness report, 2016 released by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative of the United Nations placed India in118th rank in terms of Happiness Index.
                Happiness word report 2016
                Factors Considered
                • People’s health and access to medical care
                • Family relations
                • Job security
                • Social factors including political freedom and degree of government corruption
                Top 10 Nations
                • Denmark tops the list holding the tag of Happiest Nation in the world
                • It is followed by Switzerland, Iceland ,Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand with Australia and Sweden occupying 9th and 10th position respectively
                • US has been placed 13th behind Israel
                Flash points
                • India was ranked 118th in the list, down one slot from last year on the index
                • It faced decline from last year index along with Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Botswana.
                • India comes below Somalia (76), China (83), Pakistan (92), Iran (105), Palestinian Territories (108) and Bangladesh (110)
                • 150 countries were analyzed
                • Syria & Burgundi occupied the last positions in the list
                World Happiness Index
                • The report was prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative by the United Nations
                • The report is prepared since 2012

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