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Current Affairs - 19 February 2017

General Affairs 

ISRO Tests India's Largest Cryogenic Engine For 400-Ton Rocket
  • India's space agency certainly seems to be on a trajectory to amaze. After stealing the headlines worldwide this week for launching 104 satellites with a single rocket, the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO has successful tested the country's largest cryogenic engine for a full 10 minutes. The engine will power its mammoth Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III rocket capable of propelling a 4-ton class satellites into geo-synchronous orbit - the altitude where satellites revolve in sync with the Earth's rotation. With this final hurdle crossed yesterday at an ISRO facility in Tamil Nadu's Mahendragiri, India is all set to test the GSLV Mark III rocket which is almost 50 meters high and weighs 414 tons - equal to 75 Asian elephants. The rocket will be a successor to the GSLV Mark II which was first launched in 2001 and can carry a heavier payload than the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle or PSLV.

    This engine has been developed after two decades of hard work as the technology was denied to India by Russia under pressure from the US. The rocket engine uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel that are stored at minus 253 degrees centigrade and then ignited to burn at plus hundreds of degrees centigrade just a few centimetres down engine. A very complex technology, the cryogenic engine has been mastered only by Russia, USA, France, China, Japan and India.

    India's space programme has received special international acclaim since three years ago, ISRO scientists pulled off an ambitious mission to send a probe to orbit Mars that succeeded at the first attempt - and at $74 million cost less than the Hollywood space film Gravity.

    Won't Support Devendra Fadnavis Government If Shiv Sena Pulls Out: Sharad Pawar
    • NCP President Sharad Pawar today asserted that his party will not bail out the BJP Government in Maharashtra if it is reduced to minority and dared the Shiv Sena to withdraw support to it.

      "We are willing to give a letter to the Governor, saying the Devendra Fadnavis Government will not have NCP's support if Shiv Sena withdraws from it. But Uddhav Thackeray should first give a letter to the Governor withdrawing support to the Fadnavis government and also make the letter public," Mr Pawar said at a press conference in Mumbai.

      Replying to questions on Thackeray's remark that he doesn't trust the NCP when it says it will not support the BJP government if Shiv Sena pulls out, Mr Pawar said he does not require a certificate of trust from him.

      Uddhav Thackeray, which has snapped ties with BJP for the February 21 civic polls, has said he will take a decision on continuing in the Maharashtra government after election results are announced on February 23.

      The Maratha strongman said two years ago his party had announced support to BJP (which won maximum seats) since no party had got a majority and NCP did not want political instability immediately after the 2014 Assembly polls.

      "The BJP had formed Government for the first time and people thought the party should be given a chance to perform. But after two years, people have realised that BJP is no good. Hence, there is no question of supporting the Government," Mr Pawar said.

      The former Union Minister claimed the BJP will not have an upper hand in the civic polls and alleged the central leadership of the party has been "plotting" to weaken the Shiv Sena.

      Mr Pawar said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' poll campaign is centred around personal attacks on Uddhav, "the Shiv Sena had to retaliate. If this continues and the Shiv Sena withdraws support, there will be mid-term polls. But, there is no clarity yet on the Shiv Sena stand."

      He said the Sena's demand for loan waiver to farmers in the state is nothing but an "escape route" to avoid quitting the over two-year-old dispensation.

      "I don't think Fadnavis will have a problem in announcing sops for farmers to keep his Government stable," the NCP chief said.

      Mr Pawar said he had predicted two years ago that the Sena-BJP alliance will hit a rough patch during the Mumbai civic polls and "we are facing a similar situation now".

      He said the NCP has a limited presence in Mumbai and hence will not benefit from the Sena-BJP fight in the state capital.

      "NCP support is mostly among farmers, rural masses and Marathi-speaking people. In Mumbai, the Marathi space is already with the Shiv Sena. We need more time to create a space for ourself in the city," he added.

    India's Only Live Volcano Active Again After 150 Years, Say National Experts
    • India's only live volcano in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which had started showing activity in the year 1991 after being dormant for over 150 years has once again started spewing ash, the researchers at Goa based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) said on Friday. "The only live volcano in the Andaman and Nicobar islands is erupting once again. The Barren Island volcano, located 140-km north-east of Port Blair, dormant for more than 150 years started erupting in 1991 and has since then shown intermittent activity," CSIR-NIO said in a statement.

      A team of scientists led by Abhay Mudholkar, from CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography (CSIR-NIO) in Goa reported that the volcano is active and spewing smoke and lava once again.

      "On the afternoon of January 23, 2017, the scientific team on board CSIR-NIO's research ship R V Sindhu Sankalp were busy collecting sea floor samples in the Andaman Basin near the Barren volcano when it suddenly started spewing ash," the NIO has said.

      "The team moved about one mile from the volcano and began closely observing it. It was erupting in small episodes lasting about five to ten minutes," said the release.

      During the daytime only ash clouds were observed.

      However, after sundown, the team observed red lava fountains spewing from the crater into the atmosphere and hot lava flows streaming down the slopes of the volcano, it said.

      NIO has said the volcano was revisited in the early hours of January 26, 2017 again during the second leg of the cruise led by B Nagender Nath, it said, adding the team witnessed the continuation of spurts of blasts and smoke.

      "They have sampled the sediments and water in the vicinity of the volcano and recovered coal-like black pyroclastic material representing proximal volcanic ejecta.

      Clouds were seen at the crater mouth where the smoke was bellowing out in otherwise clear sky," the researchers said.

    Alert In Kutch Over Possible Intrusion By Pak National By Sea
    • Kutch district police in Gujarat has been put on alert following inputs from central agencies about possible intrusion by a Pakistani national by sea route. The central intelligence agencies shared an input that at least two boats, one of which having a Pakistani national on board, may arrive on Jakhau port on the western shore of the district, Kutch Range Inspector General A K Jadeja said.

      As per the inputs received by the central agencies and subsequently shared with Kutch Police last night, one boat had headed towards International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) near Jakhau from a port in Andhra Pradesh, he said.

      "Upon reaching near Jakhau in the high seas, one Pak national, who came there on another boat from Pakistan, came onboard and then they headed towards Jakhau.

      "There are two boats which may arrive at Jakhau port. This input was conveyed to us last night," Mr Jadeja said.

      The Pakistani national may head towards Adipur in the eastern part of Kutch district by road after arriving at Jakhau.

      "Based on these inputs, we alerted the district police force last night and ordered them to conduct thorough searches of each and every vehicle coming from west.

      "We have also started scanning all the hotels and guest-houses in and around Adipur," the IG said, adding nothing suspicious has been found yet.

    No Plan To Use National Guard For Immigration Enforcement, White House Clarifies
    • The White House on Friday said there was no plan to utilize the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants, after a news report asserted that the proposal had been under consideration by the Trump administration.White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters he couldn't categorically say the move had never been discussed anywhere in the administration. The Associated Press reported the proposal to mobilize up to 100,000 National Guard troops was part of a draft memo being circulated at the Department of Homeland Security.

      Spicer sharply criticized the report. "There is no effort at all to ... utilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants," he said. "This is 100 percent not true."

      David Lapan, a spokesman for DHS, said the department was "not considering mobilizing the National Guard for immigration enforcement."

      The AP said the draft memo, dated January 25, had been circulating among DHS staff for about two weeks and was addressed to the then-acting heads of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and US Customs and Border Protection.

      It reported the 11-page document called for an unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement on the states bordering Mexico - California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas - and also encompassed seven states contiguous to those four -- Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

      The AP said the memo was meant to serve as guidance to implement the wide-ranging executive order on immigration and border security that President Donald Trump signed on January. 25.

      A DHS official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the memorandum obtained by the Associated Press was an "early, early version" of a document being prepared by staff for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Discussion of the National Guard was dropped before the memo ever made it to Kelly's desk, the official said.

      The memo being prepared for Kelly has not yet been finalized but is expected to be finished soon, the official said.

    Business Affairs 

    States force Centre to delete minutes of last GST Council meet
    • In a first, Opposition-ruled states today got the Centre to delete from the records three minutes of the last GST Council meeting that provided for tweaking of agreed criteria for division of taxpayers under the Goods and Service Tax regime.
      The all-powerful GST Council, headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and comprising representatives of all states, had in its last meeting on January 16 agreed that 90 per cent of tax assessees below Rs 1.5 crore annual turnover will be assessed by states and the remaining 10 per cent by the Centre.
      For taxpayers with over Rs 1.5 crore turnover, the split was 50:50 between the Centre and states.
      But the minutes of that meeting, which came up for approval at the 10th GST Council meet here today, gave states a leeway to split the assessees in a different ratio in consultation with the Centre.
      This was strongly opposed by Opposition-ruled states like Delhi, West Bengal, Kerala and Karnataka which felt the reported minutes of the meeting do not reflect the decision taken at the GST Council.
      This, along with two other minutes, was dropped in todays meeting, a minister of an Opposition-ruled state told reporters here.
      "The 90:10 division (of assessees with turnover below Rs 1.5 crore) and 50:50 (for assessees with over Rs 1.5 crore turnover) was decided but it was not decided that any one state can sit with the Centre and decide to rework (the division) on its own," he said, adding that it was not discussed in the last meeting.
      The minister further said that BJP-ruled states had at the last meeting stated that they dont want control over small businesses and the states today said that it shouldnt be made part of the Council minutes.
      The Centre was originally not in favour of a horizontal split of control of assessees under the dual control or cross empowerment but had to give into states demand in the last meeting.
      The minister said now the Centre by tweaking the minutes is trying to keep the issue open eneded "so that later they can exert pressure through taxmen and CBI and ask other states to also give up their powers".
      "This is a political gimmick to increase Centres powers by turning 90:10 into 50:50. What is the role of GST council then if the states individually come and decide," he added. 

    Govt sanctions 200 CISF commandos to secure Reliance IT park
    • The government has accorded an armed security cover of nearly 200 CISF commandos to secure the Navi Mumbai-based Reliance Corporate IT Park.
      Officials said the Union Home Ministry recently sanctioned the deployment of the central paramilitary force at the facility after a security audit and survey in this regard was recently concluded.
      The Reliance Corporate IT Park Limited is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and is located within the Reliance Corporate Park campus in Ghansoli area of Navi Mumbai.
      "A little less than 200 CISF commandos will be deployed at the facility. The contingent will take over the task soon," they said.
      PTI had reported last year that the facility would be the second Reliance unit to get Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) security cover after RILs refinery in Jamnagar in Gujarat.
      Reliance Corporate IT Park deals in businesses related to information technology, business processing and some Reliance-backed Start Up projects. It is thronged by lakhs of people including staff and visitors.
      The CISF was asked to secure the facility after the Home Ministry reviewed reports prepared by central security agencies and local police about possible terror threats faced by the facility and its standing as an economic powerhouse and employment provider.
      The commandos to be posted at the facility will be deployed in a Quick Reaction Team (QRT) pattern as part of which they keep vigil from vantage positions using sophisticated weapons and vehicles for swift movement and the regular entry and exit will be manned by private security guards provided by the company that will also pay for the security cover and arrange for the boarding facilities of the these central security personnel, officials added.
      The CISF was tasked to secure private sector entities after the government brought an amendment to its Act after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack in 2008 which saw terrorists storming five-star hotels.
      It is mandated to secure installations and concerns in the private sector following the attacks. The cover has been very sparingly accorded since then, given the fact that till now only eight such facilities have been sanctioned such a security.
      Last year, the government had ordered deployment of about 35 CISF personnel to guard Baba Ramdevs Patanjali Food and Herbal Park Private Limited in Haridwar.
      The other seven private sector units being guarded by the CISF are: Electronics City in Bengaluru and Infosys campuses in Bengaluru, Mysore and Pune, Reliance Refinery and Petrochemicals in Jamnagar, Coastal Gujarat Power Ltd project executed by the Tata group in Mundra, and the Tata Steel project based in Odishas Kalinganagar. 

    Aditya Puri says e-wallet players have no future. But, are they listening?
    • The rivalry between e-wallets and banks came to the fore on Friday with HDFC Bank chief Aditya Puri saying companies which hold on to customers through cash-backs are loss-making and have no future. "I think wallets have no future. There is not enough margin in the payment business for the wallets to have a future,'' Puri said at the annual Nasscom summit here.
      "Wallets as a valid economic proposition is doubtful. There is no money in the payments business. The current loss reported by market leader Paytm is Rs 1,651 crore. You cannot have a business that says pay a Rs 500 bill and take Rs 250 cash-back,'' Puri said.
      Wallet companies cannot copy the Alibaba model as well, as the domestic regulators are better, he added. Interestingly, HDFC Bank also has a wallet service called Chillr. Puri said ApplePay is also another version of the wallet and there is no reimagining of the bank happening there.
      Banks and standalone wallet players have been at loggerheads and there have been instances last month like blocking of money transfer by ICICI Bank into Flipkart's PhonePe or SBI refusing to let its customers transact on Paytm for security reasons.
      The National Payments Corporation of India had intervened in the matter first ruling in favour of Paytm and then abruptly reversing the decision after the banks explained their concerns on the issue.
      Stating that banks also have wallets for e-commerce transactions, Puri said the standalone wallet players depend on banks as an intermediary to get funds. Additionally, the launch of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) makes it possible for banks to carry out payments transactions faster.
      "Is this wallet any better than mine, other than a cash- back? I don't have a Rs 1,651 crore loss. You eliminate the loss, then we will talk,'' he said.
      When asked if the higher interest offering of over 7 per cent by payments banks which space Paytm plans to enter soon, Puri said let's wait for the launch of the bank but maintained that such high returns are not sustainable.
      "When Paytm launches the bank, then we will see. Judge the risks and put your money. You might get the interest,'' he said.

    Donald Trump and automation: Double whammy for India's IT industry
    • Automation and the new US administration were the big unknowns at the Indian tech sector's annual shindig this week, with machines threatening to take away thousands of jobs and concerns over possible visa rule changes in the key American market.
      But senior executives from the $150 billion industry, which rose to prominence at the turn of the century by helping Western firms solve the "Y2K" bug, said companies with skilled English-speaking staff and low costs could not be written off yet.
      The sector, led by Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd, is lobbying hard as the new U.S. administration under President Donald Trump considers putting in place visa restrictions.
      The administration may also raise salaries paid to H1-B visa holders, a move that could significantly increase costs for IT companies that are already facing pressure on margins.
      The longer-term challenge and opportunity for the sector was automation, executives said, as global corporations from plane-makers to consumer firms bet on the use of machines to further cut costs and boost efficiency.
      That threatens lower-end software services and outsourcing jobs in a sector which employs more than 3.5 million people.
      Summing up the mood at the three-day NASSCOM leadership event in Mumbai ending on Friday, Malcolm Frank, Chief Strategy Officer at Cognizant which has most of its operations in India, spoke of "fear and optimism."
      Even top IT executives were "fearing the machines", he said.
      Some Indian executives, including Infosys' Chief Operating Officer Pravin Rao, said that greater automation was expected to help engineers and developers shed repetitive jobs for more creative roles.
      "Some part of the work we'll be automating 100 percent, you don't require people to do that kind of work," Rao told Reuters. "But there are always newer things, where we will be able to re-purpose employees who are released from those areas."
      With rapidly changing technology, Indian IT firms are emphasizing the need for retraining their workforce, in many cases setting up experience centers and learning zones on their sprawling campuses.
      Some companies are partnering with universities to design and fund education programs, while staff members spoke of employers laying on training and webinars to help develop skills in automation and cloud computing.
      "The threat from automation killing jobs is more than Trump's anticipated visa rule changes," a general manager-level employee at a top Indian IT firm said.
      NASSCOM chairman and Tech Mahindra CEO C.P. Gurnani said technology would create new roles where "man will manage machines," even if a fourth of Indian IT jobs were to be replaced by machines over the next four years.
      Hiring patterns may also change, with unconventional, high-value graduates likely to be more attractive, to the possible detriment of hiring from India's engineering colleges.
      Infosys, which traditionally recruited only engineering graduates, is considering hiring people educated in liberal arts to add creative skills to its workforce, COO Rao said.
      In a first, NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies), the leading Indian IT lobby group, delayed its initial growth forecast for fiscal 2017/18, citing market uncertainty.
      NASSCOM officials said it had deferred its predictions by three months to give it time to gauge policy announcements in the United States which could make immigration rules tougher.
      The industry body aims to announce a firmer growth forecast after the quarter to March when IT companies report annual earnings and give guidance for the next fiscal year.
      "A certain level of ... uncertainty will continue over the medium-term," said NASSCOM President R. Chandrashekhar. "And businesses therefore have to take essential decisions on new technology in the face of a certain degree of uncertainty."

    Foodgrain output up 8.1% in 2016-17 due to good monsoons
    • Foodgrain production in India has grown by 8.1 per cent to 271.98 million tonnes in 2016-17, as per the 2nd advance estimates released by the ministry of agriculture & farmer welfare. The bumper output expected this year would be 15 per cent higher than the average production of foodgrain recorded during the last five years (2011-12 to 2015-16). According to the department, the record output is a result of favourable monsoon and various policy initiatives taken by the government.
      Production of wheat, coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds are expected to touch new records-
      Rice: Total production of rice is estimated at record 108.86 million tonnes which is a new record.  This year's rice production is higher by 2.21 million tonnes than previous record production of 106.65 million tonnes achieved during 2013-14. It is also higher by 3.44 million tonnes than the five years' average Rice production of 105.42 million tonnes. Production of rice has increased significantly by 4.45 million tonnes than the production of 104.41 million tonnes during 2015-16.  
      Wheat: Production of Wheat, estimated at 96.64 million tonnes is also a record. This year's wheat production is higher than the previous record production of 95.85 million tonnes achieved during 2013-14.  Production of Wheat during 2016-17 is also higher by 4.03 million tonnes than the average wheat production. The current year's production is higher by 4.36 million tonnes as compared to Wheat production of 92.29 million tonnes achieved during 2015-16.

      Coarse Cereals
      : Total production of coarse cereals is estimated at a new record level of 44.34 million tones, higher than the average production by 3.00 million tones. It is higher than the previous record production of 43.40 million tonnes achieved during 2010-11 by 0.94 million tonnes. Current year's production it is also higher by 5.82 million tonnes as compared to their production of 38.52 million tonnes achieved during 2015-16.  
      Pulses: As a result of significant increase in the area coverage and productivity of all major Pulses, total production of pulses during 2016-17 is estimated at 22.14 million tonnes which is higher by 2.89 million tonnes than the previous record production of 19.25 million tonnes achieved during 2013-14. Production of Pulses during 2016-17 is also higher by 4.50 million tonnes than their Five years' average production. Current year's production is higher by 5.79 million tonnes than the previous year's production of 16.35 million tonnes. 

      : With an increase of 8.35 million tonnes over the previous year, total Oilseeds production in the country is estimated at record level of 33.60 million tonnes. It is higher by 0.85 million tonnes than the previous record production of 32.75 million tonnes achieved during 2013-14. The production of Oilseeds during 2016-17 is also higher by 4.34 million tonnes than the five year's average Oilseeds production. The current year's production is significantly higher than the production of 25.25 million tonnes during 2015-16.

      : Its production is estimated at 309.98 million tonnes which is lower by 38.46 million tonnes than the last year's production of 348.45 million tonnes.

      : Despite lower area coverage during 2016-17, higher productivity of Cotton has resulted into higher production of 32.51 million bales (of 170 Jute & Mestakg each) as compared to 30.01 million bales during 2015-16.
      Jute & Mesta: Production of Jute & Mesta estimated at 10.06 million bales (of 180 kg each) is marginally lower than their production of 10.52 million bales during the last year.

    General Awareness

    Veteran Hindi Scholar and Novelist Surendra Verma Selected for 2016 Vyas Samman
    • Renowned Hindi litterateur and playwright Surendra Verma has been selected for 2016 Vyas Samman for his novel Kaatna Shami Ka Vriksha Padma Pankhuri Ki Dhar Se. This novel was published in the year 2010.
      • Mr Verma would be presented a cash prize of Rs. 3.50 lakh a citation and a logo for the prestigious award instituted by K K Birla Foundation.
      • Surendra Verma will be the 26th recipient of the honor.
      About Surendra Verma
      Surendra Verma was born on September 7, 1941 in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. He is an M.A in linguistics.
      • He started his career as a teacher and soon started writing stories. His first play was Surya ki antim kiran sesurya kipahli kiran tak (From the Sun’s Last Ray to the Sun’s First Ray).
      • This play was premiered in Marathi by Amol Palekar in 1972.
      • He had been associated with the National School of Drama for long and has published about fifteen titles of short stories, novels, satires and play.
      Plays and Novels
      Some of his well known plays and novels include:
      1. Do Murdon Ke Liye Guldasta (2000)
      2. Mujhe Chand Chahiye (1993)
      3. Katna Shami Ka Vriksha Padmapankhuri Ki Dhar Se (2010)
      1. Surya Ki Antim Kiran Se Surya Ki Pahli Kiran Tak (From Sunset to Sunrise, 1972)
      2. Athwan sarg (Eighth Chapter) (1976)
      3. Chhote Saiyad bade Saiyad (Junior Saiyad and Senior Saiyad) (1978)
      4. Qaid-e-hayat (Imprisonment of Life) (1983)
      5. Rati Ka Kangan (2011)
      6. Dropadi
      7. Shakuntala ki Anguthi
      His play Surya Ki Antim Kiran Se Surya Ki Pahli Kiran Tak (From Sunset to Sunrise) has been translated into six Indian languages.
      Awards and Recogintions
      • 1992: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Playwright in Hindi
      • 1996: Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Mujhe Chand Chahiye (I want the moon)
      About Vyas Samman
      Vyas Samman was instituted in 1991 by the KK Birla Foundation. The prestigious award carries a cash award of Rs 3.50 lakh, a citation and a logo.
      • It is awarded annually in recognition of the Hindi literary work in genres like novels, plays, short stories, poetry, critiques and others.
      • To be eligible for the award, the Hindi language literary work must have been published in the past 10 years.
      • The last receipient of Vyas Samman in 2015 was Sunita Jain who was awarded for poetry collection “Kshama”.

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