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Current Affairs - 19 January 2017

General Affairs 

Election Commission deploys drug-sniffer dogs to stop distribution of drugs in elections
  • Taking a cue from the previous assembly elections,the Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements in Punjab to stop transportation and distribution of banned drugs, liquor and money which have been frequently used to lure the voters in the past by the political parties.
    Chief Electoral Officer, Punjab on Wednesday said the commission has deployed flying squad teams comprising police, vigilance and excise department officials in each district to check the illegal activities .It is due to the heightened security that the police has busted networks smuggling poppy husk, illegal liquor and money have been busted.
    The police so far has seized 58 kg poppy husk, illegal currency worth Rs 3 crore and illegal gold worth Rs 21 crore.
    "Investigations have led to the discovery of illegal liquor,money and narcotics.We are specially focussing on the drugs and money which are usually used to lure the voters. Special teams have been constituted in each district which keep en eye on the distribution of drugs and money.Barricading of roads has been done within the state and on the inter-state barriers," Chief Electoral Officer, Punjab Vijay Kumar Singh Said .
    In a major setback to the senior Punjab government bureaucrats,politicians and ministers, the Election Commission on Wednesday summoned back 1200 police officials posted as personal security guards with the politicians, officers and ministers.
    "We had reviewed the personal security of various VIPs and found that 1200 police officials were posted in access. They have been asked to report back to the force. There were also some complaints that security was being misused after the imposition of code of conduct," Additional Director General, Punjab Police, V K Bhawara said.
    Giving details about the preparedness to deal with the transportation and distribution of drugs during the elections,Bhawara said the police has deployed 22 specially trained drug sniffer dogs at various places to curb drug smuggling and distribution.
    " It is the first time that the police department has deployed narcotics-trained sniffer dogs . We already had three sniffer dogs and 19 dogs were hired privately. We are taking no chances. We have set-up nearly 75 inter-state barriers besides the barricading in all 22 districts," V K Bhawara said.
    The state police officials claimed that the heightened security and barricading has led to the recovery of illegal cash , liquor and drugs.The police in Ferozepur had busted an illegal distillery and destroyed two lac litre illegal liquor which was meant to be served to the voters last week.
    A visit to a police barrier set up in Mohali near Chandigarh revealed how the police officials maintained the record of each vehicle entering the state. The police frisking and checking also led to the recovery of wooden sticks, baseball bats and iron rods from the vehicles.

    RBI Governor Urjit Patel to Parliament panel on demonetisation: Discussion started in January 2016
    • Appearing before a Parliament panel on demonetisaion, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel is learnt to have said that the discussion on banning Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes between the central bank and the government began as early as January last year.
      Patel is also reported to have said Rs 9.2 lakh crore of new currency notes have been put into the system since November 8 - the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of high-currency notes.
      Patel was briefing the parliamentary panel about demonetisation, its impact on economy, and the steps taken by the central bank to deal with the cash crunch following the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes.
      Sources said Patel quoted the figure even as Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy, who is a member of the standing committee on finance, rejected the claim.
      "The RBI Governor was unable to tell us how much money has come back to the banks, nor was he able to tell us when the system will be normal. The RBI officials were defensive," Roy said.
      Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das, Banking Secretary Anjuly Chib Duggal and Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia, top bank honchos like Chanda Kochhar of the ICICI Bank and Usha Ananthasubramanian of the Punjab National Bank also appeared before the committee headed by senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily.
      Former Prime Minister and a member of the Parliament panel, Manmohan Singh - a staunch critic of the decision to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, calling it a monumental mismanagement - is also reported to have raised questions on the issue.
      Patel is also scheduled to appear before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on the same issue on January 20.

    India to China: Our rise not harmful to your ascent, sovereignty
    • In the backdrop of growing unease in Sino-India ties, India said it has been trying to convince the Chinese government that its ascent is not harmful to the rise of China and that both countries should be sensitive on matter relating to sovereignty.
      In an address at the Raisina Dialogue, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar took strong objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, saying there should have been some reflection on India's unhappiness over it.
      "What we are trying to do is to convince China that our rise is not harmful to China's rise just as China's rise need not be to India's rise," he said at the gathering attended by representatives from across the world.
      Chill has set in Sino-India ties following China's opposition to India's membership at the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as Beijing blocking India's move at the United Nations (UN) to designate Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
      1. During the interactive session, he touched upon a vast array of subjects concerning international relations, Jaishankar said the The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has been made "ineffective due to the insecurity of one member".
      2. Identifying terrorism as the most "pervasive and serious challenge" to international security, the Foreign Secretary said developing a serious global response to it is of the highest priority but rued that it is hard to do.
      3. On ties with China, he said there has been overall broadening of ties, especially in areas of business and people-to-people contact, but they have been overshadowed by differences on certain political issues.
      4. But it is important for the two countries not to lose sight of the strategic nature of their engagement, or falter in their conviction that their rise can be mutually supportive, he added.
      5. Replying to a question on CPEC, he said both countries should show sensitivity to each other's sovereignty.
      6. China is a country which is very sensitive on matters concerning its sovereignty. So we would expect that they would have some understanding of other people's sensitivity on their sovereignty, he said.
      7. Jaishankar said the CPEC passes through a "piece of land that we call Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir which is territory belongs to India and which is illegally occupied by Pakistan".
      8. He said the project has been undertaken without consultation with India and that its sensitivity and concerns towards it are natural.
      9. On India's overall ties with China, he said both the countries have opened up significantly since 1945.
      10. In a sense, both of us, if you step back and look at it, are opening up a very close international order. When people talk about change since 1945, I think two big changes are really India and China.
      11. I would say if China had not opened up the international order the way it did, I think it would be much harder today for India also to exploit those phases. There is a high degree of shared interests, he mentioned.

    Budget on February 1 a done deal, won't announce special sops for poll-bound states: Government
    • The NDA government will go ahead with its Union Budget presentation on February 1 as planned and will make no "specific announcement" for election-bound states.
      Top sources in the government said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present his Budget for 2017-18 on February 1 - three days before Punjab and Goa vote, and 10 days before the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh does.
      The Budget session has already been convened from January 31 when President Pranab Mukherjee will address the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. The Union Budget and the Economic Survey are slated to be presented the next day, a break from the earlier convention of the statement read in March.
      The Opposition had been demanding the advancement of the Budget after March 8, claiming that the government may announce provisions with the poll-bound states in mind.
      The Opposition parties had written to the President and the Commission objecting to the presentation of the Union Budget on February 1 ahead of the Assembly elections in five states and demanded that the government be asked to defer the annual exercise till March 8, the last day of voting.
      Last week, the government told the Election Commission on the Opposition complaint against presenting the Union Budget before Assembly elections, defending its decision to advance the Budget session for the purpose.
      The government said the Union Budget as an annual constitutional exercise covering the entire country and not just a few states, an apparent rebuttal of the Opposition charge that the budget will be used to woo voters in the poll-bound states.

    China Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through illegal territory of PoK: Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar
    • India on Tuesday expressed its strong objection to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, saying it passed through the illegal territory of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Addressing the second foreign policy Raisina dialogue, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar minced no words in expressing his displeasure over the project when asked by a Chinese scholar whether India could benefit from the same.
      "China is very sensitive about its sovereignty. The economic corridor passes through an illegal territory, an area that we call Pak-occupied Kashmir. You can imagine India's reaction at the fact that such a project has been initiated without consulting us," said Jaishankar, adding that India had not seen signs of China's understanding India's concerns about sovereignty.
      Taking forward the Prime Minister's message earlier on Monday, Jaishankar also stressed the need for India and China to respect each other's sensitivity on core concerns and interests. "With China, the overall broadening of ties, especially in business and people-to-people contacts, has been overshadowed by differences on certain political issues. But it is important for the two countries not to lose sight of the strategic nature of their engagement", he said in his speech.
      India's top diplomat also expressed the possibility of US and Russia relations undergoing a transformation for the first time since 1945. "We established an early contact with the Trump transition team and see a strong convergence of interests and concerns. With Russia, India's relationship has actually grown very substantially in the last two years, as has the bonding between our leaders. An improvement in US-Russia ties is, therefore, not against Indian interests", said Jaishankar. 
      "In a clear message to Pakistan, the Foreign Secretary also said that sub-regionalism would be the way forward for regional groupings like SAARC to take off in a multi-polar world. India is a founder member of SAARC, an organisation that has been made ineffective due to the insecurity of one member. We hope to partially remedy this through the BBIN sub-regional grouping", he said.

    Business Affairs 

      Sensex gains over 170 points, Nifty reclaims crucial 8,450-mark
      • The Indian benchmark indices were trading higher on Wednesday over a jump in metal and other blue-chip stocks amid a mixed trend in Asia and fresh foreign capital inflows.
        At 9.40 AM, the S&P BSE Sensex was trading at 27,407, up 171 points while the broader Nifty50 was trading 8,454, up 56 points.
        "Going ahead, as long as the intraday support of 8,370 on Nifty remains intact, we may see index consolidating with a positive bias. On the higher side, we would continue with our near term levels of 8,460-8,510," said an Angel Broking report.
        The gauge had lost 52.51 points in the previous session after IMF sharply lowered India's GDP estimates.
        Traders said fresh buying by investors amid reports of fresh spell of foreign funds inflows on domestic bourses influenced sentiment.
        Tata Steel, Hindustan Unilever and Adani Ports were the top performers gaining 2.56%, 2.33% and 1.71% on the BSE respectively.
        Global Markets
        China's Shanghai Composite index was up 0.12 per cent while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was also trading 1.12 per cent higher in early trade. Japan's Nikkei, however, fell 0.20 per cent.
        The US Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.30 per cent yesterday. 

        Why currency won't be back to normal before June, 2017
        • In the midst of claims and counter-claims that India now has sufficient currency in circulation, ATMs continue to remain dry or shut for most part of the day, banks continue to impose withdrawal limits lower than prescribed by the RBI and government and life just doesn't seem to be back to normal.
          So how is it that the government's and RBI's claim that over Rs 9 lakh crore of currency is back in circulation doesn't translate into normalcy on the streets? The answer lies in the deliberate ambiguity of the numbers being put out. It is also the reason why the claim of life-as-usual by the end of January does not hold water.
          Rather, it won't be until June before the government and the RBI will have enough currency in circulation to lift withdrawal restrictions (if they will be fully withdrawn at all!).
          The biggest reason-despite the government and RBI's repeated claims-is that there still aren't enough Rs 500 notes printed and in circulation.
          As per the latest data released by the RBI, as of December 23 it had Rs 9.42 lakh crore of currency in circulation. That number, however, is highly deceptive. For, it includes all valid notes in circulation (Rs 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and Rs 2000)-not just the Rs 15.44 lakh crore worth of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 that were demonetised.
          Break that up and you will know why both the government as well as the RBI are shy of disclosing the number of notes in circulation and, rather, continue to disclose a consolidated amount of money in circulation instead.
          On November 8, the day the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were demonetized, India had Rs 17.97 lakh crore of currency in circulation. Of that Rs 15.44 lakh crore was demonetised. Hence, the valid currency in Rs 100, 50, 20 & 10 were worth Rs 2.53 lakh crore which continued to remain in circulation. Rather, since RBI printed more Rs 100 notes, it probably expanded, but the RBI hasn't disclosed the additional notes printed.
          So, the Rs 9.42 lakh crore in circulation as of December 23 already includes Rs 2.53 lakh crore (probably more). Meanwhile, the RBI had printed nearly 2.5 billion (of the targeted 3.5 billion) Rs 2000 notes before it was stopped to devote all printing presses to print Rs 500 notes. Hence, the Rs 2000 notes in circulation amount to Rs 5 lakh crore. That makes it at least Rs 7.53 lakh crore in Rs 2000, 100, 50, 20 and 10 notes.
          Which means that as of Dec 23, only Rs 1.89 lakh crore (or less, if more Rs 100 had been put into circulation) worth of Rs 500 notes had been printed and brought back into circulation. That's short of 4 billion notes as against 17.17 billion Rs 500 notes that were demonetized.
          Extrapolate that: With printing presses running full steam printing Rs 500 notes, only 4 billion notes having been printed in nearly 45 days, it will be not before 200 days (mid-end May, 2017) from November 8 that we can expect the entire demonetised currency to be back in circulation for public.
          With RBI woefully short of Rs 500 notes to issue to public, it's little surprise that it continues to evade the question of the number of Rs 500 notes in circulation. Instead, the only number being disclosed is the total currency in circulation (Rs 9.42 lakh crore as of Dec 23), a number that cleverly masks the real numbers and the shortage. That explains the ATMs running dry all across the country nearly 70 days since November 28.
          And though RBI has refused to release any details of printing, it is believed that another factor slowing the print run is the shortage of paper, ink and security threads. The government has ordered nearly 27,000 tonnes of paper. However, that lot is only going to be delivered by March, 2017. So the earliest to expect things getting back to normal or near normal is at least 4-5 months away. That's a far cry from the government's claim of normalcy by the end of January.

        Bengaluru beats Silicon Valley to top world's most dynamic cities' list
        • Six Indian cities have made it to the world's 30 most dynamic places that have the ability to embrace technological change, absorb rapid population growth and strengthen global connectivity, with Bengaluru topping the chart.
          Cities in India, China and Vietnam, along with several in the US, head the list of world's fastest changing cities in JLL's fourth annual City Momentum Index.
          Other Indian cities in the list are Hyderabad at the 5th position, Pune (13), Chennai (18), Delhi (23) and Mumbai (25).
          Asia Pacific cities comprise half the top 30 fastest- changing cities.
          "India has taken over from China as home to some of the world's most dynamic cities. Six Indian cities feature in the CMI Global Top 30, with the country's primary technology hub, Bangalore, moving into the top spot for the first time," JLL said.
          Top 10 cities in the JLL index are Bengaluru, Ho Chi Minh City, Silicon Valley, Shanghai, Hyderabad, London, Austin, Hanoi, Boston and Nairobi.
          "With more than half the world's population currently living in cities, a proportion that is expected to grow substantially over the next few decades, the success of our cities takes on great importance," said Jeremy Kelly, JLL Director in Global Research.
          The report noted that dynamic labour markets help fuel some 'Emerging Megacities' such as Chennai, Manila, Delhi and Mumbai. However, this group faces significant infrastructure and quality of life issues, with high levels of inequality, congestion and pollution hindered by weak city governance.
          In all, 134 cities were assessed by CMI using 42 variables including recent and projected changes in city GDP, population, corporate headquarter presence, commercial real estate construction and rents.
          Other factors included education, innovation and environment.

          Cabinet clears proposal for listing five PSU general insurers
          • The government on Wednesday approved proposals for listing of five PSU general insurance companies as was announced in the Budget 2016-17.
            The Cabinet approved the listing of public sector general insurance companies through a combination of fresh issuance of shares or Offer for Sale, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
            The government holding in the these companies will gradually come down to 75 per cent from 100 per cent, he said.
            The five firms that will be listed include four public sector general insurance companies-New India Assurance Company Ltd, National Insurance Company Ltd, Oriental Insurance Co Ltd, United India Insurance and one re-insurance firm GIC.
            Listing of PSU general insurance firms was announced in the Budget by the Finance Minister. ...(proposed to) undertake important banking sector reform and public listing of public sector general insurance and undertake significant changes in FDI policy, he had said while unveiling the Budget.
            Public shareholding in government-owned companies is a means of ensuring higher levels of transparency and accountability.
            To promote this objective, the general insurance companies owned by the government will be listed in the stock exchanges, he had said. The government has allowed foreign insurance players to raise their stake in their joint venture to 49 per cent.
            Earlier, only up to 26 per cent FDI was permitted. There are 52 insurance companies operating in India, of which 24 are in life insurance business and 28 in general insurance.

          Daiichi Sankyo stumps industry with move to pull the plug on Indian Research and development arm
          • On January 10th, in a 100 word press release, Japanese pharma major Daiichi Sankyo announced that the company had decided to "to close its research subsidiary, Daiichi Sankyo India Pharma Private Limited."
            The research subsidiary is located at Gurgaon, near Delhi and the move was meant  "to increase R&D productivity." This left many in the pharma industry, particularly those among the pharma scientific community baffled, as they are still trying to read how the company could enhance its R&D productivity by moving out of a geography, which was meant to have strategic importance.
            In fact, just little over six months ago, Yoshio Uchida, the Vice President & Head, Operations & Management for Daiichi Sankyo India Pharma Private Limited, as the entity was called in India, had told Business Today, that the research Centre in India is the global centre for Infectious disease area. The centre in India was mainly focused on infectious diseases (research in antibiotics) and on inflammation. These areas are not new to Daiichi.
            In fact, it has had blockbusters in the antibiotics several years ago. Uchida had also said: "With change in circumstance and necessity to focus on limited therapeutic area, Daiichi Sankyo decided to downsize research activity for infectious disease in Japan and to shift these activity to the research centre in India." This research centre at Gurgaon was the last remnant, in terms of a direct physical presence, of the Japanese pharma major in India.
            Its misadventure in India had began in June 2008 with the acquisition of Ranbaxy in an over $4-billion deal (around Rs 20,000 crore then) with the promise of utilising Ranbaxy's resources to become a 'global pharma innovator'. What, however, followed were a series of run-ins with the US drug regulatory, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), over drug quality. Daiichi finally divested Ranbaxy to Sun Pharmaceuticals in April 2014 but it retained the R&D part.
            Apparently, while officials at Daiichi would not say much, Business Today learned that while the Indian market per se was not of much significance to Daiichi, the research centre made sense, since it seemed to have provided talent capability plus the benefit of a region that was beginning to cope with the serious problem of antibiotic resistance. So, the bacterial population required for the company's study is higher here and perhaps there are some cost advantages, too.
            Daiichi Sankyo has had a long history of innovation in infectious disease and would have known better. But now, the company says, it is reviewing its global R&D system with the aim of decreasing R&D operations costs and redistributing resources to the further development of its R&D pipeline.  The Indian entity, it says, employed  approximately 170 people, mainly engaged in conducting drug discovery research targeting infectious diseases and inflammation. It further added that following  its closure, the R&D pipeline here will be transferred to Daiichi Sankyo's R&D Division.
            "It is sad because there is hardly any MNC research happening in antibiotics out of India and this was a good case of R&D being done by an MNC in India," says Bugworks CEO Anand Anandkumar. Bugworks is a Bangalore based 18-member company that is working on drug-resistant and hospital-acquired infections since January 2014.
            He also feels the argument on R&D productivity is hard to fathom because the two have nothing to do with each other and this move cannot be seen as one that would in any way raise the productivity. He says, as far as R&D productivity is concerned, it has been low overall globally and big pharma has been struggling with this. "The only silver lining," he says, from a Bugworks' perspective, "is that if bigger boys vacate the space, it only means innovation will need to happen out of smaller companies."  
            Others also speculate that the move has perhaps something to do with the fact that the it has been quite a while since the company has had a new blockbuster in anti-infective space and the field is getting challenging constantly with more bug resistance building. Therefore getting the right antidote has become a moving target. Others in the industry also see the move as a possible reflection of the company trying to cope with cost pressures with its major blood pressure medication getting off patent in the US.

          General Awareness

          Study by Oxfam Shows Richest 1% in India Holds 58% of Total Wealth

            1. As per a report titled ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ released by rights group Oxfam on January 16, 2017, the richest 1 percent of the population in India holds 58 percent of the country’s total wealth which is higher than the global figure of 50 percent.
              • The report aims to provide a platform to the countries to build a human economy that benefits every section of the society and not just the privileged few.
              Findings of the Study
              The report found that since 2015, the richest 1 percent population in India has continued to own more wealth than the rest of the countries.
              • Besides, it also discovered that 57 billionaires in India having collective wealth of USD 216 billion was equal to the wealth that lowest 70 percent population held. However, when taken globally only 8 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world population.
              • The study stated that India has 84 billionaires with a collective wealth of USD 248 billion. The total Indian wealth in the country was calculated at USD 3.1 trillion. Top 3 billionaires comprised of Mukesh Ambani (USD 19.3 billion), Dilip Shanghvi (USD 16.7 billion) and Azim Premji (USD 15 billion).
              • In contrast, the total global wealth in 2016 was USD 255.7 trillion. Of this, the top three global billionaires held about USD 6.5 trillion which comprised of Bill Gates (USD 75 billion), Amancio Ortega (USD 67 billion) and Warren Buffett (USD 60.8 billion).
              • The study also noted that in the next 20 years, 500 people in India would hand over about USD 2.1 trillion to their inheritors. This sum of money is larger than the GDP of India.
              • Speaking about the last two decades, the report said that the richest 10 percent of the population in countries like China, Indonesia, Laos, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka witnessed that their share of income increased by more than 15 per cent while the poorest 10 percent saw a deline in their share of income by more than 15 percent.
              • In case of women, the report said that women in Asia are generally paid low wages than male population mainly due to gender discrimination and working in low-pay sector.
              • The study also notified that the Global Wage Report 2016-17 showed that India suffers from huge gender pay gap and has among the worst levels of gender wage disparity with men earning 30 percent more than women in similar jobs.
              • More than 40% of the 400 million women living in rural India are involved in agriculture and related activities but as women are not recognized as farmers and do not own land, they have limited access to government schemes and credit, restricting their agricultural productivity.
              Suggestions for Indian Government
              Based on the findings, the report suggested the Indian government to take steps to end concentration of wealth to only fewer sections to end poverty. It also said to introduce inheritance tax and increase the wealth tax. Wealth tax in total tax revenue is the lowest in India.
              • It suggested not to reduce the corporate tax rate further besides eliminating tax exemptions. Governments must support companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.
              • Further the Indian government must take strict steps against those corporate and individuals who do tax dodging.
              • Government should take steps to generate funds to boost healthcare and education sector. It suggested to increase the public expenditure on health from 1 % GDP to 3% of GDP and on education from 3% of GDP to 6%.
              About Oxfam
              Oxfam is an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty.
              • Headquarters: Oxford
              • CEO: Mark Goldring
              • Founded1942

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