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Current Affairs - 24 March 2016

General Affairs 

RSS Ideologue MG Vaidya Favours Four-Way Division Of Maharashtra
  • RSS Ideologue MG Vaidya Favours Four-Way Division Of MaharashtraMUMBAI:  RSS ideologue MG Vaidya has said that four states can be carved out of Maharashtra for better administrative purposes and suggested formation of a new state reorganisation commission to look into the matter.

    Mr Vaidya mooted the idea in the backdrop of Srihari Aney's resignation as Advocate General of Maharashtra after his remarks favouring a separate Marathwada sparking a huge controversy, with opposition Congress-NCP and ruling ally Shiv Sena crying foul over it.

    At an event in Jalna district of Marathwada on Sunday, Mr Aney had said, "Marathwada bore more injustice than Vidarbha and should therefore be independent. Pressure has to be put at the Delhi level to form a separate state as the demand does not come under the purview of Mumbai."

    The BJP in the state also distanced itself from views of Mr Aney, who had earlier called for a referendum on the question of a separate Vidarbha state.

    "A new state organising commission should be formed that should be looking to fulfil two conditions. First, a state's population should not be more than 30 million and second, it should not be less than 5 million," Mr Vaidya told Press Trust of India.

    "If we consider the formula, four states can be carved out of Maharashtra. The present conditions are not suitable for administrative purposes. Even the RSS has four 'praant' (provinces) in Maharashtra, while it has six in Uttar Pradesh for administrative purposes," he added.

    Mr Vaidya said a state's formation should not happen after violent agitations by the people, which should be done before any agitation.

    He said that while some states have high population density, others like Sikkim (around 10 lakh), Andhra Pradesh (around 14 lakh) have low density which creates instability. "There are states like Jharkhand, Odisha, Punjab and Chhattisgarh which have a population of around 30 million and are doing well," he said.

    "Similarly, if there are four states carved out of Maharashtra, all of them can be Marathi speaking states. For purpose of administration and interest of people, states can be divided," he said.

    Mr Vaidya said if Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seeks his opinion, he will convey his views to him.

    "I have also heard BJP is in favour of smaller states," he said.

Green Court Orders Uttar Pradesh Government To Submit Data On Sewage In Ganga
  • Green Court Orders Uttar Pradesh Government To Submit Data On Sewage In GangaNEW DELHI:  The National Green Tribunal has come down heavily on the Uttar Pradesh government, its pollution control board and other agencies for delay in informing it about the quantum of domestic and industrial effluents discharged in the river Ganga.

    The green tribunal also warned of imposing exemplary cost on them if they did not do so within a week.

    "By way of last opportunity, we grant one week time for the said purpose. We make it clear that if requisite status report and projected statement is not filed within this week, we will be compelled to impose a cost of Rs. 50,000 on each of the concerned respondents, including State of UP," a bench headed by tribunal's Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.

    During the proceedings, the counsel for UP Jal Nigam told the bench that it was in the process of collecting segregated data and required some more time.

    The bench, after taking note of the submissions, posted the matter for next hearing on April 5.

    The tribunal had asked UP Pollution Control Board about total quantity of domestic and industrial sewage discharge in Ganga and its tributaries like Kali and Ramganga and directed it to submit a "commonly acceptable" data on the total waste.

    UPPCB had told the bench that 31 towns are located in the state from Haridwar to Kanpur on the banks of Ganga and its tributaries. While 20 towns are situated on the banks of Ganga, eight are on Ramganga while three are located on the bank of river Kali, it had said.

    The board had also informed that these towns generated 544 million litre per day (MLD) of sewage, of which only 176.27 MLD joins Ganga after treatment while the remaining effluent flows directly into the river.

    The green tribunal had on January 15 directed Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand government to identify seriously polluting industries located on the banks of Ganga and apprise it about "quantity and quality" of discharge in the river.

    Irked at the lackadaisical approach of officials of the two states for failing to enumerate the causes of pollution and the locations affected, NGT had asked the Ministry of Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation, through National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), not to release funds to Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments without its approval.

PM Modi's Economic Reforms Made 'Little Progress': Chinese State Media
  • PM Modi's Economic Reforms Made 'Little Progress': Chinese State MediaBEIJING:  Dismissing reports about India becoming the "new growth engine of world economy", Chinese state media today said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's economic reforms have achieved "little progress" and asserted that the Chinese economy was five times bigger than the Indian economy.

    Speculation that "the Indian economy will surpass that of China" and "India will become a new engine for the world economy" are frequently heard and some analysts even conjecture that the Chinese model is inferior to that of India, an article in state-run Global Times said.

    "By hyping the Indian economy's superiority, Indian officials and the Western media are instigating international investors to direct their capitals from Beijing to New Delhi, giving impetus to Indian growth," the article said.

    "However, such hype has limited effects as profit-oriented investors try to lower their transaction costs as well," it said.

    The article advised against comparing the India model with China model and suggested that the two countries, should, rather learn from each other's development experience.

    "There is no fixed model for China's development, thus it is impossible to make comparisons between Chinese and Indian models," it said.

    Talking about Prime Minister Modi's economic reforms, the article said: "Since he came into office as prime minister, Modi has boosted the morale of the Indian economy."

    "However, Modi's economic reform has achieved little progress, which is known in the international community."

    It contended that India's economic reforms are impeded by its political institutions and party systems.

    "Certain interest groups carry more weight than Indian politicians. Sophisticated party-to-party competitions have seriously influenced the nation's executive ability," it said.

    The article, however, praised India's political institutions for providing stability to the country for seven decades.

    "India's political institutions have helped maintain a stable state structure in the last 70 years. Despite separatist activities, India's integrity and overall stability have not been challenged," it said.

    "India's economy is developing slowly but steadily. In comparison with other South Asian nations, India has chosen a relatively more successful development road," it said. Still, the article reminded, China's economy is five times bigger than Indian economy.

    "China, in spite of its high efficiency, has made a few wrong decisions in the past 60 years. But, there is no need to compare the Chinese economic development mode with that of India. Despite mistakes and social problems, China has seen sound economic development since the founding of the People's Republic of China," it said.

Bomb Alert For 10 Indigo Flights, Srinagar-Delhi Flight Isolated At IGI
  • Bomb Alert For 10 Indigo Flights, Srinagar-Delhi Flight Isolated At IGINEW DELHI:  Ten Indigo flights are under scanner after warnings that they have bombs on board.

    A flight from Srinagar is currently undergoing security check at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport. The flight 6E853 was coming to Delhi via Jammu.  

    The warning was received at the Indigo call centre in Chennai, said airport sources.

    Yesterday, a hoax call to Jet airways saying bombs were on board for five of its flights, had triggered a huge search operation.  

    Most of the key airports in the country are under alert following yesterday's terror attack at the Brussels airport, in which 14 people had died.  

Return Old Cellphone, Get A Reward: You May Be Entitled To This Soon
  • Return Old Cellphone, Get A Reward: You May Be Entitled To This SoonNEW DELHI:  Got an old printer you no longer use? Or a cellphone? The government wants to ensure you can give it back, possibly for some sort of reward (cash back or a discount on future purchases), and without having to go too much out of your way.

    The Environment Ministry has released stricter new rules today to control the mountains of electronic waste that pile up in the country. A "reverse chain" has to be created by manufacturers to ensure electronic products are recovered for safe recycling.

    India ranks fifth in the world in dumping e-waste, and its contribution is increasing at an average of 5 per cent every year. The US and China are No 1 and 2 respectively.

    "We are working at providing some sort of incentive to encourage consumers to also help recycle e waste," said Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar.  

    He pointed out that Indians currently own 100 crore or one billion mobile phones -even if jut 25% of those are discarded every year, the minister said, that's a huge reservoir of material of recyclable material.

    Experts warn that  discarded products like CFL bulbs and old TV sets contain harmful chemicals; if not properly treated,  they can pollute rivers and the  soil "before making it back to us through the food chain" said a senior ministry official.

    The bulk of india's considerable e-waste is processed by rag pickers who often burn  products made of highly toxic plastic to retrieve the small quantities of precious metals including gold and silver found in the circuit boards of some electronic devices.  To check this, the government will authorize recycling plants to specially handle e-waste.

    The stricter rules mean that for the first  time,  even CFL energy-efficient bulbs ,which contain mercury, will  have to be recycled. Producers will have to provide details of how and where consumers can submit  used bulbs.

    The government is going to work out incentives for consumers which can include cash back while also planning penalties on manufacturers of electronic products who haven't set up  recycling facilities or tied up with an authorised recycler.

Business Affairs 

    Sensex falls 100 points, Nifty slips below 7,700 on global cues; RIL top loser
    • Sensex falls 100 points, Nifty slips below 7,700 on global cues; RIL top loserThe S&P BSE Sensex fell over 100 points but was trading above its crucial psychological level of 25,000, while broader CNX Nifty slipped below its key 7,700-mark.
      The headline indices slumped tracking negative trend seen in Asian markets following attacks on the airport and a rush-hour metro train in Brussels as investors remained sideways.
      At 09:20 am, the 30-share index was trading at 25,226, down 104.15 points, while broad-based 50-share index was quoting 7,693, down 21.55 points.
      Market breadth turned negative with 18 of the 30 Sensex components trading in red.
      Reliance Industries was the worst performing stock on Sensex and shed nearly 1 per cent on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).
      "Going forward, Nifty is likely to continue this march towards 7,750-7,780 levels; where we would advise momentum traders to book at least partial profits and to trail stop losses higher," said Angel Broking.
      However, the brokerage added shorting is strictly avoided in such kind of strong upward leg. It sees Tuesday's low of 7,643 as a strong support on the downside.
      Shares of Kalpataru Power Transmission gained over 6 per cent after the power major said it has secured orders worth Rs 1,320 crore from Power Grid Corp.
      The domestic market will remain shut on Thursday on account of Holi and on Good Friday.
      Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Composite was trading with a downtick of 0.31 per cent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.27 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei shed 0.04 per cent.
      Overnight, Wall Street closed slightly lower, inching back from an initial selloff that followed deadly attacks in Brussels.

      DA hiked by 6%, to benefit 1 crore employees, pensioners

        • DA hiked by 6%, to benefit 1 crore employees, pensionersOn the eve of Holi festival, the government today hiked dearness allowance (DA) by 6 per cent, benefiting over 1 crore central government employees and pensioners.
          The hike, which will cost the exchequer an additional Rs 14,724.74 crore annually, will take effect from January 1, 2016, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after the meeting of the Union Cabinet which took the decision.

          The burden on exchequer would be Rs 6,795.5 core towards central government employees and Rs 7,929.24 crore towards pensioners during 2016-17, he said.
          The DA, which will benefit, 50 lakh central government employees and 58 lakh pensioners, will go up from the existing 119 per cent to 125 per cent.
          Dearness allowance is paid as a portion of basic pay of employees to neutralise the impact of inflation. Pensioners get dearness relief.
          The central government revises DA twice in a year on the basis of one year average of retail inflation for industrial workers as per a pre-determined formula.
          In September last year, DA was increased to 119 per cent from 113 per cent with effect from July 1, 2015.
          In April last year, the government had hiked DA by 6 percentage points to 113 per cent of the basic pay with effect from January 1, 2015.

          Govt to consider selling up to 49% stake in Air India
          • Govt to consider selling up to 49% stake in Air IndiaGovernment is to examine the possibility of selling up to 49 percent of loss-making national carrier Air India, news agency NewsRise Financial reported on Wednesday, citing an unnamed official.
            The government plans to form a four-to-five member panel, made up of officials from the finance ministry, the civil aviation ministry, the cabinet secretariat and the company, to consider selling a stake in Air India to meet its revenue target from state asset sales next fiscal year, according to NewsRise.
            Indebted Air India, which last made an annual profit in 2007, has seen its market share shrink in recent years amid rising competition from private carriers. It is now India's third-largest airline by market share.

          World's richest Hindu temple wants gold rather than cash under scheme
          • Tirupati temple wants gold rather than cash under schemeThe world's richest Hindu temple is asking to be repaid in gold for longer-term deposits it makes under the government's monetisation scheme in order to make the plan more attractive to the temples that are sitting on thousands of tonnes of the metal.
            The Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, popularly known as the Tirupati, has requested repayment of their deposits of longer than three years under the Gold Monetisation Scheme in the metal rather than cash, D. Sambasiva Rao, the executive director of the temple operator Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) told Reuters on Wednesday.
            TTD's participation in the gold scheme is crucial to its success since the temple in Andhra Pradesh holds 7 tonnes of the metal, equivalent to about $277 million at current prices. However, Tirupati and other temples around India are reluctant to part with the gold forever because of its religious and emotional significance.
            "We wrote to the government to change certain conditions in the scheme and offer principal and interest in the form of gold for medium-term and long-term deposits," Rao said, referring to deposits for between five and 15 years.
            "The changes will make the scheme attractive for all the temples in the country," he said.
            India is the world's second-biggest consumer of gold after China and imports accounted for about a quarter of India's trade deficit in the year ending March 2015.
            Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year launched the Gold Monetisation Scheme to mobilise gold stashed with individuals, institutions and rich temples for recycling and to reduce imports. The scheme has garnered about 3 tonnes of gold in four months out of a national hoard of over 20,000 tonnes.
            Seeking divine blessings, devotees have offered billions of dollars worth of jewellery, bars and coins to temples over the centuries.
            TTD last month deposited 1.3 tonnes of gold with state-run Punjab National Bank at a rate of 1.75 percent for three years, Rao said, as some of its deposits under previous monetisation schemes have matured.
            The temple will deposit another 1.4 tonnes in a fortnight at 1.25 percent with Indian Overseas Bank as most of the gold is raw and the bank will spend to refine it, he added.
            The 200-year-old Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple in Mumbai said it will deposit 44 kg of gold with a bank by the end of the month for recycling, choosing a short-term plan rather than a longer scheme that does not pay back in gold, said Narendra Murari Rane, chairman of the trust for the temple.
            "We want returns in gold because if the prices of gold go higher than the monetary benefit that we will get, then devotees will blame us for depositing the gold at a cheaper rate," Rane said in his local language.

            PM Narendra Modi under fire as rising costs put squeeze on 'middle India'
            • PM Narendra Modi under fire as rising costs put squeeze on 'middle India'Sharp rises in education and healthcare costs in the last two years have hit India's burgeoning middle class hard, denting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity among the relatively well-off ahead of a series of state elections.
              Price increases for services deemed a luxury for most Indians could also complicate the central bank's plans to cut borrowing costs, with decades of low investment in schools and hospitals meaning they will remain expensive for some time.
              "Spending on my son's education and medicine for the family has gone up sharply," said Sambuddha Banerjee, a 47-year-old IT professional, who works for local government in Kolkata.
              "The government also cut fuel subsidies and tried to impose taxes on our pension savings. This is not acceptable."
              Banerjee is thinking twice about voting for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at elections scheduled for 2019.
              That view is far from universal, but is already on the radar of a government that swept to power in 2014 with promises of economic reforms and pro-business policies that appealed to aspirational Indians living in big towns and cities.
              Modi has already seen support among the huge agriculture sector ebb following several crop failures, so appeasing the middle class, which accounts for about a quarter of the 1.3 billion population, looks increasingly important.
              "Rising prices of commodities and services which have a higher weight in the consumption basket of middle class households is an issue that cannot be ignored," said a senior finance ministry official.
              "This is a supply side issue and can't be addressed in the short term," he added.
              To ease some pressure on middle income earners, the government plans to hike salaries of its nearly 10 million employees by 24 percent this year.
              Education costs have risen 13 percent, housing 10 percent, healthcare 14 percent and electricity 8 percent since Modi took charge in May 2014, time series data on CPI inflation collected by the Ministry of Statistics showed.
              That puts a disproportionate strain on middle class incomes, with education costs accounting for 7 percent of urban households' monthly spend compared with 3.5 percent of rural households, data showed.
              Food and beverage prices, meanwhile, which account for more than a half of the CPI basket, fell 10.5 percent since Modi's election victory, although there, too, items like milk and eggs favoured by middle income Indians have actually risen.
              Owners of motorcycles and cars are further upset that the government took away some windfall gains from falling oil prices in the form of taxes, and people across the country are cutting back on discretionary spending as expenses outstrip earnings.
              Underlining the government's sensitivity to a "squeeze" on the middle class, earlier this month it agreed to roll back plans to tax pension fund withdrawals following a backlash from salaried workers.
              While national elections are three years away, the BJP's popularity faces earlier tests, with ballots in states including West Bengal and Assam later in 2016, and the key battleground of Uttar Pradesh due next year.
              RATE CUT
              A disgruntled middle class also poses problems for Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan, who has pledged to bring down consumer price inflation to 5 percent by March, 2017 and 4 percent in the medium term.
              Headline retail inflation eased to 5.18 percent in February from 5.69 percent in January, but core inflation, which strips out food and fuel, rose to 4.9 percent from 4.75 percent, mostly due to increases in education, housing and personal care.
              The RBI is widely expected to cut its policy interest rate by 25 basis points on April 5, after lowering it by 125 basis points last year thanks in part to easing inflation and the government's fiscal consolidation roadmap.
              "The spare capacity in the economy is not getting reflected in the core inflation number, which means the challenge for monetary policy to control the demand side pressure is much more," said one senior policymaker, hinting at the difficulty of deep rate cuts beyond April.
              That could be a bad news for middle income Indians who are looking to the central bank to bring down their borrowing costs, particularly after deposit rates fell.
              The government slashed the federal pension fund rate and deposit rates offered to millions of small savers to align with market rates, triggering protest from opposition parties.
              Despite the complaints, many are willing to give Modi more time to address their concerns.
              "Our expectations of him were very high, and he needs more time to solve these age-old problems," said Kundan Mukherjee, a 51-year-old from Jharkhand, who works for a pharmaceutical company.

            General Awareness

            Current Account Deficit fell to 1.3% of GDP

              • India’s current account deficit, the excess of imports over exports, fell further to 1.3% of the gross domestic product due to benefits of lower commodity prices.
                Flash points
                • Reserve Bank of India data showed current account deficit (CAD) at $1 billion in the third quarter ending December, lower than $8.7 billion or 1.7% of GDP in the preceding quarter
                • Last year the CAD was at $7.7 billion and at 1.5% of GDP
                • The fall in commodity prices helped lowering of trade deficit to $34 billion from $37.4 billion
                • Net outflow for the third quarter was just about $0.2 billion compared with net outflow of $3.5 billion in the preceding quarter
                • Remittances by Indians employed overseas fell to $15.8 billion
                • India’s foreign exchange reserves, excluding changes in currency valuation rose$14.6 billion during April-December 2015 as compared with $31.3 billion in the last year
                Points to note
                • RBI governor– Raghuram Rajan
                • RBI headquarters Mumbai

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