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Current Affairs - 2 July 2016

General Affairs 

5 Killed In A Landslide in Arunchal Pradesh's Kameng District, Rescue Op On
  • ITANAGAR:  At least 5 people were killed while several others feared trapped in a landslide today that buried several houses at Bhalukpong in Arunachal Pradesh.

    West Kameng district superintendent of police A Koan said the landslide occurred when a small hillock near the Old Inspection Bungalow caved in and buried several houses.

    While five bodies were retrieved from the debris, four persons were rescued. Several people were reportedly missing, he said, adding rescue operation was on.

    The police official, who is on his way to Bhalukpong from the district headquarter town of Bomdila to supervise rescue operation, said torrential rains in the past couple of days has triggered flood-like situation in the town bordering Assam.

PM's Report Card For Ministers: Who Topped, Who Was Back Of The Class
  • NEW DELHI:  The best-performing ministries according to a review led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are Power, headed by Piyush Goyal, and Nitin Gadkari's Roads and Highways Ministry.

    Yesterday, the economic affairs secretary presented an update on each ministry's work as well as their accounts to the Prime Minister and other top members of his office. All ministries had submitted their presentations to the economic affairs secretary.

    The exercise lasted five hours and comes ahead of a cabinet reshuffle expected next week before the PM leaves for a tour of Africa. Mr Modi told ministers they need to work harder to deliver on campaign promises and to promote and implement flagship government schemes. To keep a check on this, the PM reportedly wants to repeat this detailed review every three months.

    "The government has been announcing good schemes but the "doot" messengers (ministers and lawmakers) have not been able to take it to the public," the PM repeatedly told the council of ministers.

    Sources who attended the review session said that the Big Four - Home, Defence, Finance and Foreign - were discussed with a very restricted group of attendees.

    Sources said that the ministries red-circled as under-performers included Health, with the Prime Minister making it clear that he would like to see faster progress on plans for state-run hospitals like Delhi's AIIMS in other parts of the country. Sources also said that the need for more IITs and IIMs, business and engineering colleges, to be quickly set up, was also stressed as a priority. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was reportedly told that improving connectivity and the persistent call-drop problems must be dealt with far more urgently.

    The cabinet reshuffle next week is expected to deliver a promotion for Mr Goyal, the Power Minister. States like Uttar Pradesh which are headed for elections are expected to be granted more representation.

    The council of ministers currently has 66 members including the Prime Minister. It cannot exceed 82 members.

UK Drugs Regulator Halts Approvals For Indian Clinical Trials Firm
  • Mumbai: The UK's healthcare regulator has suspended marketing approval for a widely used antibiotic that had won clearance based on clinical trials conducted by India's Quest Life Sciences, due to concerns over the integrity of trial data.

    The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) might also deny other pending drug approval requests that rely on studies conducted by Quest, the UK agency said in a letter dated June 22, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

    The MHRA's decision bars the sale of a generic version of erythromycin that is being sold in the UK by Dawa Ltd, a Kenyan drugmaker, an MHRA spokesman said.

    Quest's President Yati Chugh told Reuters the company plans to appeal against the MHRA suspension as he believes the agency relied on a two-year-old inspection report to reach its decision, and that it did not review the company's latest quality management systems.

    He said Quest had significantly improved its quality systems since 2014, and would ask the MHRA to re-inspect its site, as MHRA's move means four other drugs Quest performed trials on that are awaiting approval with the UK regulator will not be approved until the agency clears its facility.

    These drugs include the antibiotics doxycycline and cephalexin, and the diabetes drug metformin, on which Quest had conducted trials on behalf of UK drugmaker Strandhaven and India's Kopran, said Mr Chugh.

    Strandhaven, Kopran and Dawa did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.


    The MHRA's move is the latest blow to India's drug industry, whose reputation has been tainted in recent years as foreign regulators have criticised manufacturing standards and questioned the reliability of clinical data produced by some of the sector's biggest names.

    Chennai-based Quest is a contract research firm that conducts clinical trials on generic drugs on behalf of local, as well as multinational drugmakers. Drugmakers in turn use clinical data produced by companies like Quest to seek approval to sell their drugs in various countries.

    Data from Quest has been used to support drug approvals in the United States, Europe, Australia and elsewhere, according to its website.

    The MHRA said that during an inspection of Quest's facility in February, it found several issues with data integrity in a clinical trial Quest had conducted, including discrepancies in Quest's patient records and instances where electrocardiogram (ECG) data of patients had been deleted or manipulated.

    The World Health Organisation told Quest in July last year about similar ECG data manipulation issues in another drug study.

    The MHRA said it believed its findings meant that the safety or wellbeing of patients had been jeopardised in the trial.

    "The MHRA inspectors identified a large number of issues which indicated that there were very serious concerns with many aspects of the company's quality system," said MHRA spokesman Joe Groszewski in an email, adding the problems cast "serious doubt on the integrity of any data produced."

    Similar issues around data at Quest's larger rival GVK Biosciences led to a recall of about 700 drugs across Europe last year.

Super30 Founder Gets Massachusetts Institute Of Technology Invite For Teaching
  • PATNA:  Super 30 founder Anand Kumar has got an invite from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to join their open online initiative for teaching mathematics.

    Mr Kumar has got the offer from edX, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider and an initiative of MIT and Harvard University, to be part of it, a statement by Super 30 said today.

    edX hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines, including some free of cost, for students world-wide in English, Mandarin, French and Spanish. It also conducts research into learning based on how people use its platform.

    Anant Agarwal, Professor, MIT, has written to Mr Kumar as to how his Super 30 initiative was similar to edX and the two by working together could reach out to more and more students.

    "We would be delighted to explore how we might be able to work together by taking your Super 30 content onto our platform.

    "edX is trying to accomplish goals similar to yours by providing opportunity and leveling the educational playing field for millions of students in India and around the world," the MIT professor said.

    Mr Kumar said it was an honour that institutions like MIT were taking note of his initiative.

    "It is nice to hear that they too are working for underprivileged students across the globe and making available quality content to them," Mr Kumar, who himself could not go to Cambridge University for want of money, added.

    Mr Kumar has been running Super 30, an initiative to mentor students from underprivileged sections free of cost for IIT JEE. The program has recorded success for the last 14 years by helping more than 325 poor students crack IIT since 2002. This year 28 out of 30 students of Super 30 got into IIT.

Turkey Detains 11 More Over Istanbul Airport Attack, Focus On Suspected Mastermind
  • ISTANBUL:  Turkish police detained 11 foreigners on Friday suspected of belonging to an Islamic State cell linked to the attack on Istanbul's main airport, state media reported, and attention turned to a suspected Chechen mastermind.

    44 people were killed in Tuesday's bombings and shootings, which targeted one of the world's busiest airports. The three suspected attackers were Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz nationals, a Turkish government official has said.

    The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper has said the organiser of the attack, the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings in NATO-member Turkey this year, was suspected to be a man of Chechen origin called Akhmed Chatayev.

    Chatayev is identified on a United Nations sanctions list as a leader in Islamic State responsible for training Russian-speaking militants.

    He was arrested in Bulgaria five years ago on a Russian extradition request but freed because he had refugee status in Austria, a Bulgarian judge said. A year later he was wounded and captured in Georgia but again released.

    Friday's dawn arrests by counter-terror police in the European side of Istanbul brought to 24 the number of people detained in the investigation, state-run Anadolu Agency said. A police spokesman could not confirm the report.

    Turkish officials have not given many details beyond confirming the attackers' nationalities. They have previously said that forensic teams were struggling to identify the suicide bombers from their limited remains.

    Yeni Safak has said the Russian bomber was from Dagestan, which borders Chechnya where Moscow has led two wars against separatists and Islamist militants since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.


    Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper named the Russian bomber as Osman Vadinov and said he had come from Raqqa, the heart of Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria. The Russian interior ministry has said it was checking information about Vadinov.

    In 2012 Georgian officials said Chatayev had been wounded in a special forces operation against an unidentified group in the remote Lopota Gorge near the border with Dagestan. The group was believed to be made up of Russian Islamist insurgents fighting against Moscow's rule in the North Caucasus.

    Chatayev, whose foot was later amputated due to his injuries, was arrested on charges of weapons possession. He denied this and said that he had been sent to the gorge as a negotiator at the request of Georgian officials.

    He was released on the orders of a Georgian court later that year and cleared of all charges in January 2013. "He was released lawfully, whether it was a mistake or not," former Georgian interior minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said this year.

    In 2011 he was detained by Bulgarian police at the country's border with Turkey as Russia wanted him for "participation in an armed group and for the recruitment of persons for terrorism and for financing terrorism", a Bulgarian judge told Bulgarian national radio on Friday.

    However, the Bulgarian court refused to extradite him, saying his refugee status, which had been granted to him in Austria in 2003, remained valid in all countries that are signatories to the Geneva Convention, which includes Bulgaria.

    Separately, Turkish security forces detained four Turkish citizens on Wednesday at the Oncupinar border crossing with Syria on suspicion of membership of a terrorist group, the local governor's office said in a statement.

    The four were attempting to return to Turkey from a conflict zone in Syria under Islamic State control, it said.

Business Affairs 

Factory growth at 3-month high in June on strong demand

  • Manufacturing activity edged up to a three-month high in June, driven by stronger demand, but firms barely raised prices, a private survey showed, leaving the door open for another rate cut by the central bank this year.
    The Nikkei/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) rose to 51.7 in June from May's 50.7, its sixth month above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction after it fell below that level in December for the first time in more than two years.
    "The domestic market continues to be the main growth driver, as the Indian economic upturn provides a steady stream of new business," said Pollyanna De Lima, economist at Markit.
    "There were also signs of an improvement in overseas markets, as new foreign orders rose. However, it looks as if lackluster global demand remains a headwind for Indian manufacturers."
    While retail inflation hit a near two-year high in May, the survey's output prices sub-index fell to a three-month low of 50.1 in June versus 50.5 the previous month, as input costs rose at a weaker pace.
    There was also broadly no change to manufacturing employment in India during June, the survey showed.
    "This lack of inflationary pressures provides the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) with further leeway to boost economic growth through cutting its benchmark rate," said De Lima.
    According to a Reuters poll, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan could deliver another rate cut before his term ends in September. After cutting rates in April, he has left the key interest rate unchanged at a five-year low of 6.50 percent.
    However, at the June policy meeting he signalled another rate cut later in the year if monsoon rains were sufficient enough to dampen upward pressure on food prices.
    Rains are expected to be above average this year which could keep prices in control and give the government room to focus on key economic reforms in tandem with low interest rates.

    Private sector to have 26-week maternity leave for women employees: Labour Minister

    • All establishments, including in private sector, will have to provide 26-week maternity leave to their women employees under a new bill, which the government plans to push in the upcoming Monsoon Session, Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said on Friday.
      While there is already a provision of 26-week or six- month maternity leave for the government employees, most private sector firms offer maximum three months of such leave.
      Besides, these benefits are not provided at all in many smaller establishments.
      Speaking to reporters here, the Minister said the new Maternity Benefit Bill, which seeks to enhance maternity leave to 26 weeks from existing 12 weeks, will be shortly taken up by the Cabinet for approval and the Ministry will push it for passage in the Monsoon session of Parliament.
      He, however, appeared to rule out making it mandatory to provide work-from-home option to the working mothers.
      "There are certain establishments where they can get (the permission to work from home). But in other establishments they will get the facility of (26 weeks maternity leave) after amendment in the Act," Dattatreya said.
      He was replying to a query about the steps being taken by his Ministry to promote the concept of work from home to increase women participation in the workforce.
      Asked about the paternity leave and other benefits for fathers, the Minister said, "The Bill is about mothers and children. It is not about the men."
      The Minister also said that the model law that allows shops, malls and cinema halls, among other establishments, to run 24x7 throughout the year will increase women participation in the workforce as it allows them to work in night shits.
      "The is a pro-women law. Besides, it will help in employment generation. This will help increase women participation in the workforce," the Minister said.
      The Model Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2016, was approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday.
      "The law also allows women to work in night (shifts)..
      There is provision for all facilities for women like drinking water, lavatory, creche, first aid and security," he said.
      The Model law also provides for creches if the establishment has 30 women/50 workers.
      While adopting the model law, the states can modify it as per their requirements.

      Govt kick-starts process to sell 12.03% in ITDC

      • The government has kick-started the process of 12.03 per cent stake sale in India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), which could fetch around Rs 260 crore to the exchequer.
        The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), previously known as Disinvestment Department, has invited bids from merchant bankers to assist the government in the disinvestment process of ITDC, which runs a chain of hotels and restaurants.
        "The government is considering divesting 12.03 per cent paid-up equity share capital of ITDC out of its shareholding of 87.03 per cent in domestic market through offer for sale," said the tender floated by DIPAM.
        The merchant bankers have to submit bids to the government by July 21. At the current market price, the share sale could fetch about Rs 260 crore to the exchequer.
        According to ITDC website, the corporation has a network of eight Ashok Group of Hotels, five JV hotels, 1 restaurant, 11 transport units, 9 duty-free shop at airports and seaports.
        ITDC, which came into existence in October 1966, is also managing a hotel at Bharatpur and a restaurant at Kosi on behalf of the Department of Tourism. In addition, it is also managing catering services at Western Court, Vigyan Bhawan and Hyderabad House, New Delhi.
        ITDC disinvestment is expected to add to the disinvestment kitty of the government, which plans to mop up Rs 56,500 crore through stake sale in PSUs. Of this, Rs 36,000 crore is expected to come in from minority stake sale in PSUs and another Rs 20,500 crore from strategic stake sale in both profit- and loss-making PSUs.
        So far, it has raised about Rs 2,700 crore from stake sale in NHPC and another Rs 240 crore through employee subscription of IOC stake sale. 

      KPIT shares decline over 14% on lower revenue guidance

      • Shares of KPIT Technologies declined 15 per cent intraday on Friday after the software services firm cautioned the company may take a 4-per cent knock in revenues in the first quarter of financial year 2016-17 with a consequent drop in profitability.
        Reacting to the announcement, the stock hit an intraday low of Rs 156.35, down 14.98 per cent on the BSE, but settled the day 14.36 per cent lower.
        At the beginning of the financial year, the company had stated revenues to be flattish in the first 2 quarters of the year.
        "The company is going through internal changes in structure as well as external changes in the business environment. The Company's traditional revenues from ERP implementations are affected more than anticipated earlier, whereas there is good traction in the newer areas of cloud and digital technologies," said KPIT Technologies in a filing to BSE.
        "As a result, the company expects a drop in revenues of around 4% in quarter one with a consequent drop in profitability. We anticipate the revenues and profits to be flattish in Q2 over Q1 levels."

        Greening of 1 lakh km of NH to employ 10 lakh youth: Nitin Gadkari

        • Plantation drive on 1 lakh km of highways under the National Green Highways Mission will create jobs for 10 lakh youth and prove to be a game-changer for the rural economy, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Friday said.
          Kick-starting the initial plantation drive on 1,500 km of National Highways at a cost of about Rs 300 crore, the Road Transport and Highways Minister said it is a unique venture and the government welcomed "start-ups" to join it unlike other programmes where prior experience is a must.
          Under the mission, the government plans to provide 'green canopy' on NHs at an estimated cost of Rs 5,000 crore, which is 1 per cent of the road construction cost of Rs 5 lakh crore till 2019, and may link it with NREGA to boost the rural economy.
          "We will soon take up the length of National Highways to 2 lakh km from about 1 lakh km and plantation along these is our responsibility. Converting one km of highway into green provides employment to 10 people and today, we launched scheme for 1,500 km which will employ 15,000 people," the minister said at an event here to mark the launch of the plantation drive.
          Ten states are already on board with the Centre in the initial phase, besides NGOs and other bodies, including four start-ups which will be given the job of greening highways of 10 km each initially. Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has adopted NH 31 for plantation and maintenance of trees. Besides, Coal India and other such bodies have shown willingness.
          Gadkari said plantation will be accomplished on 3,000 km of national highways by the end of July.
          "Highways aside from environmental and aesthetic aspects have a huge potential to generate jobs and can prove to be a game-changer for agriculture and rural economy. It may even be linked with the NREGA scheme," the highways minister said.
          Under the framework, the government has made it mandatory to set aside 1 per cent of the total project cost of any NH contract to a Green Fund corpus for plantation.
          Calling upon government and private agencies to join hands under the initiative, Gadkari also said only serious players need to come forward as the projects will be monitored through satellite technology with payments to be made only after successful implementation.
          An app to monitor real-time progress of the plantation drive and plants was also launched on the occasion. Yes Bank was the knowledge partner for the project.
          Of the 10 states that joined hands for plantation, Haryana signed agreement for 415 km, Jammu & Kashmir for 100 km, Telangana for 150 km, Andhra Pradesh for 360 km, Madhya Pradesh for 150 km, and Assam for 50 km.
          So far, the government has roped in 22 agencies and will scale up the drive soon.
          Talking about environmental benefits that will flow from greening of highways, the minister said, "The afforestation will help in sequestering approximately 12 lakh mt carbon annually."
          Gadkari said, "We are confident that the green highways project will go a long way in reinforcing India's commitment made in CoP 21 summit for reducing carbon emissions up to 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels and develop additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion tonnes through green cover outside forests."
          He said that unfortunately, not much emphasis was given on the greening of highways earlier.
          "Farmers can join hands with the government under this initiative and open their nursery. Waste land will be converted into green forest," the minister said.
          He said a pilot project to provide a canopy of bamboo on "one-km highway stretch" in Nagpur is also being planned.
          He also said the government plans to set up 1,300 roadside amenities which will house restaurants, washrooms and helipads and have local cuisine and cultural parks to showcase local produce.
          NHAI Chairman Raghav Chandra said: "We have set aside 1 per cent of our project cost for transplantation, plantation, beautification and maintenance."
          He added that 10 start-ups have initially shown interest.
          The programme will be replicated on non-NHAI roads as well, according to Highways Secretary Sanjay Mitra.
          The Green Highways Mission Director A K Bhattacharyya said initially PwC, IOC and Coal India have shown interest to adopt some highways.

        General Awareness

        Union Government gave nod to proposal to set up India Post Payments Bank

          • Union Government has decided to approve the proposal to set up the Indian Post Payments Bank with capital of Rs. 800 Crore and to set up 650 branches by September 2017 as a Public Limited Company under the Department of Posts, with 100% Government of India (GOI) equity
            Focus: To increase financial inclusion in the country
            Initial Setup: 22,137 Post Offices linked with core banking facility
            Key Aspects:
            • In every district, Post offices will be linked to core branch of Postal bank
            • The bank will be operated by a board which has five independent directors
            • Union is in the phase to appoint the Chief Executive Officer and Bank Board directors
            • The Staff of the postal bank will be from different postal department and staff is expected to be around 2000 members
            • The Department of Posts is planned to acquire knowledge from State run banks to run the India Post Payments Banks
            • For the short tenure, S K Sinha, Secretary of Posts requested Chairman and Managing directors of the Punjab National Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Canara Bank and Union Bank to lead the India Post Payments Bank on a one-year deputation basis
            • The branches will be spread across metros, tourist places, state capitals and in the first phase, 10% of the branches will be set up in the northeast region of the country
            • Other services such as mobiles, ATMs, PoS/ m-PoS devices and simple digital payments
            Future Proposal:
            • Providing basic banking, payments and remittance services
            • Facilitate financial services like insurance, mutual funds and pensions
            • Access to credit in tie-up with third party financial providers with special focus on rural areas and the unbanked and under-banked segments

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