Current Affairs Current Affairs - 12 February 2017 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 12 February 2017

General Affairs 

India Successfully Test-Fires Star Wars-Type Interceptor Missile
  • India today successfully tested a Star Wars-type interceptor missile that can hit an incoming ballistic missile, achieving a significant milestone in the direction of developing a two-layered Ballistic Missile Defence system. The interceptor was launched from Abdul Kalam Island (Wheeler Island) off Odisha coast at 8 am this morning.

    "PDV (Prithvi Defence Vehicle) mission is for engaging the targets in the exo-atmosphere region at an altitude above 50 km of earth's atmosphere. Both, the PDV interceptor and the two-stage target missile, were successfully engaged," said a Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) official, according to news agency PTI.

    The target was developed for mimicking a hostile incoming Ballistic Missile launched from a ship anchored at Bay of Bengal and interceptor was launched from Kalam Island. In an automated operation, radar based tracking system detected and tracked the hostile ballistic missile.

    This is DRDO's latest test towards developing an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield, to protect Indian targets against nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles fired from Pakistan or China.

    The DRDO, sources say, has been working to master this capability and this is now ready for use. This is an essential defence mechanism since both Pakistan and China have nuclear tipped ballistic missiles aimed at India.

    This was only the second time the hostile Missile was intercepted at 100 km and sources say only a handful  of countries  have this similar capability.

    Congratulating the scientists, PM Narendra Modi said, "Today our scientists have made a missile that could attack an incoming missile in the sky, only 4-5 countries in the world have done this."

    Sushma Swaraj Assures Help To Family Of Indian Killed In Jamaica
    • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday assured help to the family of an Indian national who was shot dead during an armed robbery in Jamaica earlier this week.

      "Talreja family - I am sorry to know about this tragedy. My heartfelt condolences," Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

      According to reports, armed robbers entered the home of 25-year-old Rakesh Talreja, hailing from Vasai in Maharashtra, which he shared with two other Indians, in Jamaica's capital Kingston on Thursday evening.

      After snatching cash and cellphones from his roommates at gunpoint, they entered Mr Talreja's bedroom on the first floor of the house.

      After snatching his cellphone, they shot Mr Talreja in the back three times. They also shot at his roommates before fleeing from the house.

      Mr Talreja was rushed to a hospital but was declared dead before admission. His two roommates, who sustained injuries on their legs, are undergoing treatment at the hospital.

      Mr Talreja worked as a salesperson at Caribbean Jewellers in Kingston and his employer used to ask his employees to take some amount of cash home everyday to avoid theft in the shop, according to the reports.

      Seeking a detailed report about the incident, Sushma Swaraj directed the High Commission to "ensure best possible treatment to the injured Indian nationals and coordinate with the affected families".

    In War Against Black Money, PM Narendra Modi's Next Big Target Is Shell Companies
    • Over 550 people laundered nearly Rs. 3,900 crore through shell companies after the government banned high-denomination notes on November 8, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) told the Prime Minister's Office on Friday that decided to set up a task force to track action taken against deviant shell companies.

      The task force - to be co-chaired by the Revenue Secretary and Corporate Affairs Secretary - signals the centre's intent to crack down on companies that do not conduct any operations but are used to launder money and evade taxes. The government will create a database of shell companies and their directors by leveraging technology, the first step towards shutting them down.

      The Special Investigation Team on Black Money had told the government way back in 2015 that taking down these companies was going to be key to fighting black money.

      There are about 15 lakh registered companies in India but only 6 lakh companies file their annual return. "This means that large number of these companies may be indulging in financial irregularities," a government statement said.

      It is a point that was reinforced when the SFIO conducted a small sample analysis of such companies after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the ban on Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 500 denomination currency notes. It turned that such companies deposited 1,238 crore cash during November-December 2016.

      In all, the SFIO has detected attempts to launder 3,900 crore involving 550 people including 54 professionals, most of them chartered accountants who face disciplinary proceedings initiated by their regulator, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.

      Criminal prosecution has also been launched against people running 49 shell companies suspected to have helped in tax evasion.

    Rs. 18,000 Crore Ken-Betwa River Linking Project Cleared
    • The investment clearance committee, comprising officials from NITI Aayog and Union Water Resources Ministry, for Ken-Betwa river linking today gave the approval for the Rs. 18,000-crore national project envisaged to address drinking water and irrigation requirements of the parched Bundelkhand region.

      Union Water Resources Secretary Amarjeet Singh, who heads the committee, confirmed the investment clearance given to the project.

      "The investment clearance committee has recommended the investment clearance for the project after detailed deliberations and discussions," he said.

      The first-of-its-kind project covers parts of Madhya Pradesh and poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. Phase I of the project has received clearances from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), Tribal Affairs Ministry and lately from the Environment Ministry's EAC.

      However, the Environment Ministry's final approval to the project is still awaited as it decides taking into account the recommendations of its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).

      Also, the EAC's nod comes even as the project is being examined by Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) for adequacy of mitigative measures against its adverse impact on the Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

      The first phase of the project will cost about Rs. 9,393 crore and is likely to be completed in nine years.

      The project comes under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) in which the Centre contributes 60 per cent funds and the rest is by the state. But the Water Resources Ministry has asked NITI Aayog to change the funding pattern to 90:10 ratio given it is a national project.

      Sources in the Water Resources Ministry said the NITI Aayog is convinced of the ministry's proposal but the final call on the funds would be taken by the Finance Ministry.

      "We will follow whatever is the government's decision in this regard meanwhile (until the funding pattern is finalised)," sources in the ministry said.

      The project envisages construction of a dam across river Ken in Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh to irrigate 6.35 lakh hectares of land, serve drinking water purposes in Bundelkhand region and generation of 78 MW hydropower.

      Of this, 3.69 lakh hectares will be covered in Madhya Pradesh's Chattarpur, Tikamgarh and Panna districts. The remaining 2.65 lakh hectares of area falls in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh's Mahoba, Banda and Jhansi districts.

      A total of 10 villages consisting of 1,585 families are likely to be affected by this project. About 9,000 hectares area would be submerged, out of which 4,141 hectares is forestland in Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

      The project comprises two powerhouses of 2x30 MW and 3x6 MW each, two tunnels of 1.9 km long at upper level, 1.1 km long tunnel at lower level and a 221 km long Ken-Betwa link canal, proposed on the left bank of the river.

      The project was first mooted in the early 1980s but was actively taken up by the previous NDA government under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was then challenged in the Supreme Court, which finally gave the nod in 2013.

    NASA Took On An Unprecedented Study Of Greenland's Melting. Now, The Data Are Coming In.
    • Back in 2015, in a moment of science communication genius, NASA created a mission called "OMG." The acronym basically ensured that a new scientific mission - measuring how quickly the Oceans are Melting Greenland - would get maximum press attention.

      The subject is actually extremely serious. OMG amounts to a comprehensive attempt, using ships, planes, and other research tools, to understand what's happening as warm seas creep into large numbers of fjords that serve as avenues into the vast ice sheet - many of which contain large and partly submerged glaciers that are already melting and contributing to sea-level rise.

      Greenland is, in fact, the largest global contributor to rising seas - adding around a millimeter per year to the global ocean, NASA says - and it has 7.36 potential meters (over 24 feet) to give. The question is how fast it could lose that ice, and over five years, OMG plans to pull in enough data to give the best answer yet.

      "We've never observed Greenland disappearing before, and that's what OMG is about," says Josh Willis, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is the principal investigator on the mission. "We want to watch how it shrinks over the next five years, and see how we can use that information to better predict the future."

      And now, the first data are coming in, in the form of not one but two new studies published in the journal Oceanography by NASA scientists and affiliated university researchers, seeking to measure the swirl of oceans around Greenland and in particular how a warm, deep layer of Atlantic-originating water is moving and interacting with its glaciers.

      Basically, it works like this: Waters swirl in a broadly clockwise rotation around the enormous island, often darting inward towards the outlying glaciers along the way. And in fjords that are the deepest, the Atlantic layer, which tends to be over 200 meters (more than 650 feet) deep, has the greatest chance of causing sustained melting.

      "Where it's deep, there's warm water," says Willis. Above the Atlantic layer, meanwhile, is a layer of colder polar water that has far less of an effect on glaciers - meaning that the big and thick glaciers often get hit hard at their bases, even as the small and thin ones don't necessarily get hit much at all.

      The newly published research does not present any answer - yet - to the big question animating all of this: How fast will Greenland melt and raise seas in a way that threatens, say, Florida?

      In order to answer this key question, the researchers need comprehensive data on the depths and shape of the fjords, the thickness of the glaciers, and the behavior of the oceans around a Greenland coastline that, NASA notes, is 27,000 miles in length. Then, they will need to feed all of that information into a computer simulation that projects climate change forward to 2100 and calculates the consequences, at a high resolution, for Greenland's icy coasts.

      "It's too early" to run the model, said Mathieu Morlighem, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of one of the papers presenting the accumulating data. "I think you need to wait another year or two, maybe more. It was not possible at all before OMG."

      Still, the recently published findings mark a start. Morlighem's study, for instance, looked at the depth and shape of the seafloor near the fronts of and beneath numerous Greenland glaciers. The research shows that numerous glaciers extend deeper beneath the surface of the ocean than previously thought.

      For instance, Store Glacier in northwestern Greenland (at around 70 degrees North latitude in the image above) starts at 400 meters (around 1,300 feet) deep where its front touches the ocean, and then plunges to depths as high as 1,000 meters deep (3,280 feet) farther inland - making it quite vulnerable to the ocean. Prior research, however, had suggested the glacier was much shallower.

      The same was true of numerous other glaciers, which also appear more vulnerable than previously thought.

      "OMG is transforming our knowledge of which glaciers are vulnerable to more warming or not," Morlighem said. "So I wouldn't say we have been surprised, it's more, we had no idea, for many of these fjords, what they were looking like."

      Overall, the data are also showing that Greenland's west coast is far more vulnerable, in general, than its east, Morlighem said.

      The second study, meanwhile, examines at ocean circulation around the Greenland coast and finds, strikingly, that between 68 degrees North latitude along the coast and 77 degrees North, the deepest warm layer of Atlantic water cools from 3.5 degrees Celsius down to 2.5 degrees Celsius. Moreover, it does so in part because the water busily melts away at a large and deep glacier called Upernavik at 73 degrees North, which touches the ocean in 675 meter (over 2,000 foot) deep waters. The cold meltwater from the glacier spills into the ocean and, through mixing, cools the warm Atlantic water somewhat.

      "The glaciers there are actively losing enough ice, and enough fresh water, that it's important for the oceanography, and how the water changes as it goes up the west coast of Greenland," says Willis. That in itself is proof that Greenland is melting quite a lot.

      The big picture is that NASA's new data suggest - that's right - new vulnerabilities.

      "Overall, together I think these papers suggest that the glaciers as a whole are more vulnerable than we thought they were," Willis said. He says that, of course, with the aforementioned caveat that NASA's not ready yet to feed the data into a model that actually shows how this could play out over the decades of our future.

      For now, we're still stuck with official estimates from bodies like the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said in 2013 that Greenland's melting might at most contribute 21 centimeters to sea-level rise by 2100, with some possible addition from rapid ice collapse (this is the high end number for what scientists call the "likely" range in a worst-case global warming scenario, to be precise). But missions like OMG, in the meantime, are giving us plenty to worry about.

      "These kinds of results suggest that we could be in for more sea level rise than we thought," Willis said. "And we're not alone, the fact is that almost every time some new results come out of Greenland or Antarctica, we find these glaciers are more vulnerable than we thought."

    Business Affairs 

    All finance ministers have perpetual desire for lower rate: Arun Jaitley
    • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday said that he expected the Reserve Bank of India to cut interest rate but respect its decision to hold status quo.
      "All finance ministers have a perpetual desire (of lower rate) but at the end of the day we all respect the decision that the RBI takes," he said after addressing customary board meeting post Budget.
      Jaitley said that he explained the board on economic situation and various Budget suggestions.
      "One of the board members did ask some question with regard to clarification on what government had in mind. And I have explained what the government has in mind with regard to the electoral bonds," he said.
      RBI for the second time in a row in its review earlier this week opted for a status quo awaiting more clarity on inflation trend and impact of demonetisation on growth even as it hinted at no interest-rate cut in immediate future by shunning its long-held "accommodative" monetary policy stance.
      RBI Governor Urjit Patel said there is no change in monetary policy as far as inflation targeting is concerned.
      "So, it is not a change of stance with respect to that at all, just a comment that since September CPI inflation ex-fuel and food has been difficult to bring down and going forward to go towards 4 per cent and away from 5 per cent on a durable basis requires that CPI ex-food and fuel to also come down," Patel said.

    Hindustan Motors sells iconic Ambassador car brand to Peugeot
    • The iconic brand Ambassador, which used to be a symbol of the high and mighty in power corridors, has changed hands, with Hindustan Motors selling it to European auto major Peugeot for Rs 80 crore.
      The C K Birla group firm has inked an agreement with Peugeot SA to this effect. As things stand, the manufacturing of Ambassador car has been discontinued.
      "Hindustan Motors has executed an agreement with Peugeot SA for the sale of the Ambassador brand, including the trademarks, for a consideration of Rs 80 crore," Hindustan Motors said in a regulatory filing.
      Last month, the PSA Group had inked a partnership with the CK Birla group to re-enter the Indian market and earmarked an initial investment of 100 million euros (around Rs 700 crore) to set up vehicle and powertrain manufacturing in Tamil Nadu.
      The tie-up entails two joint venture agreements between the companies of the two groups.
      The initial manufacturing capacity will be set at about 1,00,000 vehicles per year and followed by incremental investment to support a progressive ramp-up of the long-term project.
      The manufacturing capacity for powertrains will cater to the domestic market requirements and global OEMs. The performance of the industrial set-up will be supported by a significant level of localisation in order to attain necessary cost competitiveness, the company had said last month. 
      The long-term partnership will allow both companies to participate in the growth of the Indian automotive market, which is expected to reach 8-10 million cars by 2025, from the current 3 million in 2016.
      The PSA group, which sells three brands -- Peugeot, Citron and DS -- is no stranger to India, having entered into a partnership with the erstwhile Premier family, resulting in joint venture Peugeot PAL India. However, it pulled out of the JV in 2001.
      The group had made repeated attempts to return to the Indian market. In 2009, it decided to go slow on plans to kick off operations in India due to a global economic slowdown.
      Later, in 2011, it announced plans to re-enter the Indian market with a mid-sized sedan, 10 years after it had exited the country. The plan, however, did not materialise.
      The CK Birla group is better known for the now discontinued iconic Ambassador car that was manufactured by group firm Hindustan Motors.
      It has presence in technology automotive, home and building, healthcare and education.

    Govt finds 9 lakh registered firms never filed I-T returns. Crackdown begins
    • The Narendra Modi government has in its crackdown against black money identified 9 lakh companies which are registered but not filed any tax returns. A senior official told Mail Today that the issue was discussed at a meeting in the PMO as part of the intensified action black money post-demonetisation.
      There are about 15 lakh registered companies in India; and only 6 lakh companies file their annual return. The government suspects that a large number of these companies may be indulging in financial irregularities.
      In a small sample analysis of such companies it has been found that Rs 1,238 crore cash has been deposited in these entities during November-December period.
      Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) has filed criminal prosecution for cheating the National Exchequer after investigation of entry operators running a group of 49 shell companies and other proprietorship concerns. It has been found that 559 beneficiaries have laundered money to the extent of Rs 3,900 crore with the help of 54 professionals who have been identified.
      This information has been shared with SIT, Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate, SEBI and The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).
      In the initial analysis the government has found that 'Shell Companies' are characterized by nominal paidup capital, high reserves & surplus on account of receipt of high share premium, investment in unlisted companies, no dividend income and huge cash in hand. Private companies as majority shareholders, low turnover & operating income, nominal expenses, nominal statutory payments & stock in trade and minimum fixed assets are the other features of such shell companies.
      The Income Tax Department has reopened completed assessment in these cases and Enforcement Directorate has initiated action under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002. ICAI has also initiated disciplinary proceedings against its members. Winding up process has been initiated in respect of 49 Shell Companies. In order to create a credible deterrence a "whole of government approach" will be adopted through coordinated efforts and by leveraging technology. 

    Indian Railways conducts world's 'largest' online test to fill up 18000 vacancies
    • Aiming at eliminating the scope for malpractices in its recruitment process, Indian Railways is conducting the world's "largest" online examination to fill up over 18,000 vacancies in various categories.
      A whopping 92 lakh candidates had applied for the jobs, of whom 2.73 lakh qualified the preliminary exam and were called for written test on January 17-19, said a senior Railway Ministry official.
      The online examination is being undertaken by the Railway Recruitment Boards to fill up 18,252 graduate-level Group-3 posts, including assistant station master, goods guard, inquiry-cum-reservation clerk, traffic and commercial apprentices and junior accounts assistant.
      Earlier, recruitment examinations used to be conducted manually, but the railways had to abandon the manual system and opt for online mode after a few alleged incidents of question paper leak.
      Describing it as the "largest online examination in the world", the official said that in order to ensure complete transparency, the railways has introduced the system of showing answer papers online to examinees one week after the examination.
      "We have shown the examinees the answers given by them and the correct answers of the questions. We had also given them opportunities to raise objections, if any, till January 30," he said.
      The next stage for selection is the psychological tests for assistant station masters and typing test for senior clerks and the appointment letters are expected to be given to successful candidates by May this year.
      At present, there are about 2 lakh vacancies in the railways which has about 13 lakh employees.
      However, all the vacancies will not be filled up as many posts are being frozen at the moment, he said.
      The railways will begin next recruitment drive for about 20,000 vacancies, including in the posts of assistant loco pilots and technical supervisor, in the next phase.

    Ford to invest $1 billion in artificial intelligence start-up
    • Ford will invest $1 billion over five years in an artificial intelligence startup with the aim of developing an autonomous vehicle by 2021, the auto giant said.
      Ford will take a majority stake in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company based in Pittsburgh, started in late 2016 by former Google and Uber employees who had worked on autonomous driving.
      The venture will employ leading engineers and "roboticists" to develop a "virtual driver" system, described by Ford officials as the "brain" of an autonomous vehicle.
      The setup is intended to give Ford a head start on competitors in the race to commercialise autonomous vehicles, said Ford executive vice president Raj Nair.
      "This is really unique in the industry," Nair said on a conference call with analysts.
      It will have the "speed and nimbleness of a startup, but also integrated into a full production development team."
      Nair said research towards full autonomy has moved "beyond the research phase," but there remains the need for a "tremendous leap" between the driver-assist technologies now available and full autonomy.
      Argo AI employees will have a minority equity stake in the venture. The structure is intended to lure top engineers to the venture, Ford executives said.
      Ford said the investment would help it to realize a previously announced plan to introduce an autonomous vehicle for ride-hailing or ride-sharing service in 2021.
      Argo AI plans to hire more than 200 people at sites in Pittsburgh, Michigan and Silicon Valley, according to a press release.
      Argo AI and other boosters of autonomous driving argue it could make roads safer and open up mobility to the elderly and others.
      "We are at an inflection point in using artificial intelligence in a wide range of applications, and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move," Argo AI chief Bryan Salesky said.

    General Awareness

    India Ranks 43 Among 45 Nations in International Intellectual Property Index
    • In the 5th Annual International Intellectual Property Index released by US Chambers of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) on February 8, 2017, India has been ranked very poor at 43rd position out of 45 countries.
      • The 2017 International Intellectual Property Index titled ‘The Roots of Innovation’ revealed that though India showed slight improvement its performance, still it continued to lag behind the rest of the world in IP protections.
      • Out of a total of 35 points, India could score only 8.75, even below the average score of 15.39.The Index has been topped by United States with a score of 32.6.
      Top 5 Countries in International IP Index
      1United States32.6
      2United Kingdom32.4
      Overview of the report
      This is for the fifth consecutive year that India has been ranked at the bottom in the index. It was ranked last or next-to-last in the previous four years.Last year, India was placed 37 out of 38 countries and scored a low 7.0 out of maximum 30 points.
      • The report said that though India made some increment this year, but the Indian government has to do a lot more to build up a positive impression of its IPR policy with adequate legislative reforms that innovators require.
      • GIPC CEO Hirschmann said that reforms in India can improve its reputation as a destination for doing business, foreign businesses’ ability to invest in and ‘Make in India’, and India’s own innovative industries.
      • The report stated that the slight improvement in India’s overall scores is mainly because of the inclusion of five new indicators in the index on which India performed very strong.
      • According to the report, India scored little better than before due to the newly adopted National IP Policy that recognises several key gaps, including the need for a stronger enforcement of the current IP rights.
      • However the policy does not address the challenges and uncertainties rights-holders face when it comes to protecting their patent rights, modernising existing copyright laws or introducing international best practices and new sector specific IP rights such as regulatory data protection.
      • Besides, India’s anemic IPR Policy, the report cited challenges with the scope of patentability for computer-implemented inventions, Section 3(D) of the Indian Patent Act, and the recent High Court of Delhi decision to permit photocopying of copyrighted material for educational purposes.
      • Besides, India, Pakistan ranked at 44 position with 8.37 score which was added in 2016 in the index along with Venezuela. China scored 14.83 points.
      • This year seven new countries have been added to the Index. They include Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Spain.
      • According to the report, the 45 countries analyzed in the index represent nearly 90% of the global economic output.
      About International Intellectual Property Index
      The Intellectual Property Index was started in 2012 US Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Centre (GIPC).
      • The index is based upon 35 parameters each having one point weightage.
      • Some of the aspects are patents, copyrights, trademarks protections, trade secrets and market access, enforcement, and ratification of international treaties.

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