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Current Affairs - 20 February 2017

General Affairs 

Niti Aayog Reviews Progress On Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train
  • The Niti Aayog has reviewed progress of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project for which the ground breaking ceremony will take place during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this year.

    The meeting chaired by Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya, was also attended by 20-member Japanese delegation last week, decided to expedite preliminary work and obtain environmental clearances. This was 4th meeting on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Project.

    "The review of the project was taken. Idea is that to put pressure on ground to implement it as soon as possible. We are making satisfactory progress," said a Niti Aayog official who attended the meeting.

    The ground breaking ceremony, he said, would be held at the time of visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe some time later this year.

    "A general consultant from Japan has started working on the project since December 2016... Next step would be to do Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)," the official said.

    He further said on ground construction for the project will commence by the end of 2018 and the train service is likely to be operational from 2023.

    The high speed railway line between the two prominent cities in Western India is expected to cover 508 km in about two hours, running at a maximum speed of 350 kmph and operating speed of 320 kmph.

    Estimated to cost about Rs. 97,636 crore, 81 per cent of the funding for the project will come by way of a loan from Japan.

    While most part of the corridor is proposed to be on the elevated track, there will be a stretch after Thane creek towards Virar which will go under the sea as per the detailed project report by JICA.

    Snapped Ties With Shiv Sena On Citizen's Demand: Devendra Fadnavis
    • The decision to snap ties with Shiv Sena was taken on the demand of people living in Thane, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Sunday. 

      Mr Fadnavis claimed that he had received messages from several people requesting him to snap ties with the Shiv Sena. "I had decided to snap the ties with Shiv Sena not because the party workers wanted it but I received several SMSes from citizens of the city (Thane) asking me to snap the ties with the (Shiv) Sena. And I am bound to abide by their demands and snapped the ties," Mr Fadnavis said.

      Election to the Thane Municipal Corporation is scheduled on February 21. 

      "Thane district was a bastion of RSS, Jana Sangh and BJP and it was in the national interest, BJP had an alliance with the saffron party (Shiv Sena) but now it is realised that they (Shiv Sena) are deviating from their principles and hence we snapped the ties," he said while addressing a rally of BJP workers in Thane.

      BJP and Shiv Sena are contesting separately in all the 10 Municipal Corporation polls in Maharashtra.

      He claimed that the party workers are happy over the decision to fight the municipal elections alone. "The decision of the BJP to go alone (in the civic polls) charged the workers, who are working with enthusiasm," the BJP leader said.

      Mr Fadnavis also alleged that the Thane Municipal Corporation has "become the seat of corruption and misdeeds". "Thane is no ones monopoly and we are determined to snatch it from the hands of the (Shiv) Sena". As regards to Thane the Shiv Sena which was Anand Dighe's Sena has not remained the same and it has become the Sena of those with selfish interest," the Chief Minister added.

    Parliamentary Panel Upset Over 'Acute Shortage' Of Faculty In IITs, IIMs And Universities
    • Expressing anguish at the "acute shortage" of faculty members in IITs, IIMs and universities, a parliamentary panel has asked the government to take steps to fill up the vacancies and to make the teaching profession more attractive.

      In a report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD), headed by BJP MP Satyanarayan Jatiya, has asked the Department of Higher Education to expedite the process of filling up the vacancies.

      The committee was "anguished" to find that from well-established central universities to those set up recently, state or private varsities, IITs or IIMs were functioning with large vacancies.

      The shortage of faculty has been a big handicap in ensuring quality education.

      The availability of adequate and qualified faculty is a pre-requisite for quality education, the 31-member panel observed.

      The situation continues to be grim with no improvement seen in near future.

      "There can be only two possibilities, either our young students are not attracted towards the teaching profession or the recruitment process is a prolonged one and involves too many procedural formalities," the committee pointed out.

      Referring to the Department of Higher Education under the HRD Ministry, the panel said that it is the nodal authority for the entire country for higher education sector and it should take a proactive role to expediting filling up of existing vacancies.

      The panel also recommended that to make the teaching profession more attractive, the faculty should be encouraged to undertake consultancy and should also be given start-up financial support.

      The HRD Ministry had last December told Parliament that 1,310 posts of professors were vacant in various central universities.

      In the recently concluded parliament session, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar had said that a majority of vacancies for teachers in universities and colleges would be filled up this year.

      It is learnt that out of the total teaching posts of 17,006 in various UGC-funded central universities, 6,080 teaching posts are lying vacant as on October 1, 2016.

      In its report, the panel has also expressed concern at the lack of employable skills of students passing out of technical students and has asked the government to take steps to address the issue.

    Every Child Has Right To Get Parents' Love And Affection: High Court
    • Every child has a fundamental right to get the "love and affection" from both the parents engaged in a marital discord, the Delhi High Court has said while giving the father the right to meet his minor son.

      "Depriving a child of the love and affection of both the parents is not in the interest of the child. The custodial parent who tries to alienate the child from the other parent does not realise the serious consequences caused in the later part of the child's life."

      "It is the fundamental right of children to get the love and affection from both the parents. If efforts made by a court to make the parties mutually agree upon a visitation schedule and interim custody period fail, the court has to step in and pass suitable orders in the best interest of the child," a bench of Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Yogesh Khanna observed.

      The court allowed the father, who lives in Kenya, to meet his minor son, living in Delhi with his mother, whenever he visits India.

      The bench observed the issue of custody, including interim custody and visitation right of either parents to a child, has become a source of continuous litigation when the couple adopt hard postures.

      "Often the innocent children are used as tools of vengeance by vindictive litigants who inflict severe emotional and psychological abuse on the child thereby seriously affecting the child in his/her later part of life," it said.

      The court's observation came on a plea filed by the father who sought meeting right with his son and overnight custody, which was earlier curtailed by a judicial order. Restoring the father's visitation right, the bench noted the kid was also not opposed to it and was happy to meet his father and paternal grandparents.

      The high court said that besides the couple meeting their kids, "overnight access at home of the non-custodial parent needs to be encouraged at an early stage so that the child has a close and a continuing relationship and gets the love and affection of not only both the parents but also the extended family comprising grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts".

      "The healthy emotional development of children depends upon their early experience of a continuous, emotionally available care-giving relationship, through which relationship the child forms an organised attachment and develops human capabilities for thought and relationship building.

      "A child has a right to a childhood free from neglect. A child needs consistent support system as also love, hope and encouragement. A child should be so nurtured that he/she is fully prepared to live life in a society, in the spirit of dignity, tolerance, freedom and solidarity," the bench added.

    From March, People In These Cities Can Apply For Passport At Post Offices
    • From next month, people in select cities will be able to apply for passports in post offices under an ambitious initiative of the External Affairs Ministry. This is aimed at making the passport issuance process hassle-free and ease burden on passport offices across the country which are grappling with large volume of applications.

      In the first phase of the project, passport services will be made available in select post offices in Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Jharkhand and some other states.

      The External Affairs Ministry, which issues passports, is making all required arrangements for roll-out of the scheme in some of the select cities in first half of March.

      Currently, 89 Passport Seva Kendras (PSK) are operating across the country as extended arms of the 38 Passport Offices.

      According to the MEA, the government rendered 1.15 crore passport and other related services during 2016.

      In Rajasthan, passport services will be available in Kota, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Jhunjhunu and Jhalawar while in West Bengal it will be in Asansol, Nadia, North Dinajpur North Kolkata.

      In Jharkhand, services will be offered in Deoghar, Jamshedpur and Dhandbad.

      "It is our effort that Post Office Passport Sewa Kendras announced in the first phase should start functioning before 31.3.2017," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

      In Tamil Nadu, passport services in post office will be rolled out in Salem and Vellore while in Karnataka, it will be in Belgaum, Davangere, Hassan, Gulbarga and Mysuru.

      According to MEA, the objective of the government has been to cater to the demand for passports and to reach out to the people located far away from the passport offices.

      The MEA had recently liberalised norms for certain categories of citizens as part of efforts to streamline the passport issuance process.

    Business Affairs 

    Capgemini India Chief Says 65% Of IT Employees 'Not Trainable'
    • With the Indian IT industry staring at a shift in nature of work due to increasing use of digital technologies, a leading firm has said a majority of the workforce cannot imbibe the required emerging skill sets, and warned of high job losses at the middle and senior levels.

      "I am not very pessimistic, but it is a challenging task and I tend to believe that 60-65 per cent of them are just not trainable," Capgemini India chief executive Srinivas Kandula said here over the weekend.

      The domestic arm of the French IT major employs nearly one lakh engineers in the country. 

      "A large number of them cannot be trained. Probably, India will witness the largest unemployment in the middle level to senior level," he said at the annual Nasscom leadership summit here over the weekend.

      He also flagged concerns surrounding the quality of IT workforce, saying much of the 3.9 million IT employees come from low-grade engineering colleges which do not follow rigorous grading patterns for students in their zeal to maintain good records.

      The remarks come days after IT industry body Nasscom said there is a need to re-train up to 1.5 million, or nearly half of its sectoral workforce. This is primarily on the back of a change in nature of work in newer, digital technologies.

      Mr Kandula said the industry, driven by yield-seeking investors, has not invested enough to upgrade the skill sets of its employees.

      He also said more number of students are now being hired from lower grade engineering colleges, which has ensured that the rise in wages has been negative by a huge margin.

      Mr Kandula said as against offers of Rs. 2.25 lakh per annum that used to go out for freshers two decades ago, they have risen only to Rs. 3.5 lakh now, which suggests a massive decrease in real wages from an inflation-adjusted perspective.

      "For some unknown reasons, we call it a knowledge-driven industry. If you have that kind of talent, and then making them learn the existing technology itself is such a huge challenge," he said.

      The quality of the students who are coming in is so bad that many of them are not able to answer, when asked about the subjects taught to them when they were in the final semester of their engineering degrees, he said.

      The critical remarks come months after a study found out that as much as 80 per cent of engineering graduates are unemployable.

      Mr Kandula had last week told news agency Press Trust of India that his company would shift focus to hiring freshers from the laterals earlier due to the newer skill sets which are required and the ease of training which the freshers offer. He, however, had maintained that the company will continue to hire.

    Govt sanctions 200 CISF commandos to secure Reliance IT park
    • Gold imports into India fell about 32.7 per cent to $19.74 billion during the April-January period of this fiscal year, which is expected to keep a lid on the current account deficit.

      Total imports of the precious metal in the corresponding period of 2015-16 stood at $29.31 billion.

      According to industry experts, softening prices of the precious metal in the domestic and world markets could be the reason for the dip in imports.

      A cash crunch in the system in the wake of demonetisation also impacted the inbound shipments.

      Gold imports dipped by about 30 per cent to $2.04 billion in January as against $2.91 billion in the corresponding month last year, Commerce Ministry data showed.

      The contraction in imports helped in narrowing the trade deficit to $86.38 billion in April-January period as against $107.74 billion in the same period previous year.

      India is one of the largest gold importers in the world, and the imports mainly take care of demand from the jewellery industry.

      For the full year 2015-16, current account deficit stood at $22.1 billion, or 1.1 per cent of GDP, as against $26.8 billion, or 1.3 per cent, in 2014-15.

      In volume terms, the country's total official gold imports declined to 60 tonnes in April-July of this fiscal year, much lower than 250 tonnes in the year-ago period.

      India imported 650 tonnes of gold in 2015-16.

      The imports remained stable at around 100 tonnes in November despite fall in sales of jewellery due to the cash crunch following demonetisation.
      According to experts, the rural demand was hit due to the currency ban and restriction on withdrawal of money from banks and ATMs. 

    Natural Gas Price Likely To Be Hiked: Report
    • Natural gas price in India is likely to be hiked by 8 per cent from April 1 driven by an increase in rates in reference markets including the Henry Hub.

      The price of natural gas, used for generating power and making fertilisers and petrochemicals as well as CNG for automobiles, is likely to rise to $2.7 per million British thermal unit for the period from April 1, 2017 to September 30, 2017 from current $2.5 per mmBtu, industry sources said.

      This will be the first increase in domestic gas prices in two years.

      Rates may further rise to $3.1 per mmBtu in second half of fiscal year 2017-18 (April to March).

      As per the mechanism approved in October 2014, the price of domestically produced natural gas is to be revised every six months - April 1 and October 1 - using weighted average or rates prevalent in gas-surplus economies at Henry Hub of the US, National Balancing Point of the UK, rates in Alberta (Canada) and Russia with a lag of one quarter.

      So, the rates for the April 1-September 30, 2017 period will be based on average price at the international hubs during January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.

      Sources said prices in the reference markets for 2016 are known and so the rates in first half of fiscal year beginning April 1 can be calculated.

      Rates were last changed on October 1, 2016 when they were cut 18 per cent to $2.5 per mmBtu from $3.06. This was the fourth six-monthly reduction.

      A rate hike will provide relief to upstream gas producers who have been getting rates below the cost of production. But at the same time, an increase in natural gas prices would mean higher raw material cost for compressed natural gas (CNG) and natural gas piped to households (PNG) and would translate into hike in retail prices.

      It would also mean higher feedstock cost for power generation and manufacturing of fertilisers.

      Prior to the October cut, rates were reduced 20 per cent to $3.06 from April 1, 2016. The price of gas between October 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016 was $3.81 per mmBtu and $4.66 in the prior six-month period.

      At the time of last revision, the government had also announced a sharp reduction in cap price based on alternate fuels for undeveloped gas finds in difficult areas like deep sea which are unviable to develop as per the existing pricing formula.

      The cap for October 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017 was fixed at $5.3 per mmBtu, down from $6.61 in the April 1-September 30 period. This cap too will rise to $5.7 per mmBtu, sources said.

      Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) is the country's biggest gas producer, accounting for some 60 per cent of the 90 million standard cubic meters per day current output.

      All of its gas as well as that of Oil India Ltd and private sector RIL's KG-D6 block are sold at the formula approved in October 2014. This formula however does not cover gas from fields like Panna/Mukta and Tapti in western offshore and Ravva in Bay of Bengal.

    Re-Verification Of Old Subscribers To Cost Rs. 2,500 Crore: Mobile Operators' Body

    • Re-verification of existing mobile subscribers through Aadhaar-based e-KYC (know your customer) will cost an estimated Rs. 2,500 crore, mobile operators' body COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India) said on Sunday, seeking certain exemptions in the process.

      "The re-verification activity entails a huge cost which is borne by the telecom service providers. In this case, the activity needs to be carried out for about 1,000 million subscribers which is a huge number and involves a humongous resources and efforts," said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India.

      In a letter to the Telecom Department, COAI has estimated the cost of carrying out this activity at about Rs. 2,500 crore. 

      The letter came in response to a meeting by the telecom department on the issue of re-verification of existing subscribers through Aadhaar-based e-KYC.

      Last month, telecom regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) had suggested verification of existing mobile subscribers through Aadhaar-based e-KYC.

      The Supreme Court too has asked the Centre to apprise it about the steps which can be taken to scrutinise the existing and future mobile users in the country.

      In its letter, COAI has suggested that once the e-KYC based activation facility reaches an acceptable levels, new customer activation should only be allowed through e-KYC except in case of foreign nationals and company-owned connections.

      This, said COAI, would have to be mandatory precursor, as otherwise new non-eKYC subscribers would continue to be added into the system.

      COAI believes that Aadhaar-based eKYC re-verification exercise will be "robust", as the verification of demographic details would happen through the government database.

      The association has suggested a series of measures to carry out the exercise in a "more effective manner". 

      These include allowing telecom operators "adequate time" for expanding coverage of eKYC facility pan-India on a shared basis.

      COAI has suggested that corporate bulk connections, post-paid accounts, as well as SIMs used for non-voice devices like iPads, POS machines, and data cards, be exempt from the Aadhaar-based re-verification.

      The mobile operators' body has also said eKYC should not be mandated for states such as J&K and Assam which have low penetration of Aadhaar. 

      It has urged that no penalty should be imposed in case of mismatch between subscriber information stored with the telecom operator and data stored in UIDAI server.

      "During the re-verification exercise, subscriber inconvenience should be avoided. It is, therefore, submitted that re-verification through Aadhaar-based eKYC should not be mandated at the time of recharge," COAI added.

    Havells India To Buy Lloyd Electric's Consumer Business For Rs. 1,550 Crore
    • Havells India Ltd, a leading maker of lights and fans, has agreed to buy a unit of Lloyd Electric and Engineering Ltd that sells air conditioners and televisions in a Rs. 1,550-crore deal ($231.14 million), the companies said.

      The deal, expected to close in eight weeks subject to final due diligence, will help Havells expand its reach into the $15 billion consumer durables market in India which, according to the company, is growing in the double digits.

      While consumer spending in the country has suffered a setback after the government in November last year scrapped high-value banknotes that accounted for more than 80 per cent of cash in circulation, analysts expect the growth to revive slowly in the fiscal year starting in April as the currency crunch eases. 

      Lloyd will use the proceeds from the sale to reduce its debt, the company said in a statement on Sunday. It will also continue its industrial air conditioner business and supply room air-conditioners to Havells as a third-party vendor, it added.

      Havells plans to fund the acquisition through a mix of debt and internal accruals, it said in a statement.

      Standard Chartered advised Havells on the deal, while Ernst & Young advised Lloyd.

    General Awareness

    National Regulatory Authority of India Gets Highest WHO Ratings
    • The National Regulatory Authority of India (NRAI), the vaccine regulating authority of India, has been given the highest ratings by global health body World Health Organization for vaccine regulations on February 17, 2017.
      • A team of international experts led by the World Health Organisation, declared that the National Regulatory Authority of India (NRA) and its affiliated institutions meets the WHO Global Benchmarking Tool requirements for a functional vaccine regulatory system.
      • The WHO team of international experts conducted a comprehensive review from February 13 to 17 to measure the maturity of the system in India against WHO NRA Global Benchmarking Tool (GBT).
      • The team comprised of leading experts in different areas from WHO Headquarters Geneva, WHO India Country Office, experts drawn from the regulators of USA, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt.
      • India has a major role in the global pharmaceutical industry covering vaccines, medical devices and traditional medicines. India currently supplies several vaccines to the UN agencies (UNICEF, WHO and PAHO).
      Overview of the Assessment
      WHO carried out assessment of the NRA of India comprising the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), State Drug Regulatory Authorities, Pharmaco-vigilance Programme of India (PvPI) and Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) structures at the Central and States level.
      • The assessment was based on nine different functionalities in the WHO Global Benchmarking Tool. These nine functions included National Regulatory System; Registration and Marketing Authorization; Vigilance; Laboratory Access and Testing; Regulatory Inspection; Clinical Trial Oversight; NRA Lot Release; Licensing Premises; and Market Surveillance and Control.
      • The Global Benchmarking Tool (GBT) of WHO has 63 indicators and 288 sub-indicators, out of which 150 are critical.
      • Based on the assessment, the Indian NRA has been declared ‘functional’ with a maturity level of 4 in respect of 5 functions while maturity level 3 in respect of 4 functions.
      • Maturity level 4 is the highest level as per currently evolved definitions. It indicates good results and sustained improvement trends.
      • Maturity level 3 indicates systematic process based approach, early stage of systematic improvements, data availability regarding conformance to objectives and existence of improvement trends.
      Pre-Requisites to be Eligible for WHO Pre-qualification of Vaccines Programme
      It is necessary for the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) to be fully functional against the WHO published NRA indicators for being qualified for WHO prequalification of vaccines.
      • The vaccine manufacturers can only apply for WHO vaccine prequalification if the NRA meets the standards of the indicators in the WHO Global benchmarking Tool on functional regulatory system for vaccines.
      • WHO Prequalification Programme provides access to vaccines that meet the unified standards of quality, safety and efficacy as well as programme needs.
      • The result shows the growing maturity of the Indian NRA which has emerged from a joint effort by the Government in consultation with WHO to build capacity and capability of the National Regulatory Authority over last several years.
      Need for WHO Pre-qualification of Vaccines Programme
      WHO Prequalifcation, which is performed every couple of years, aims to ensure that diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and immunization-related equipment and devices for diseases with high emergency meet global standards of quality, safety and efficacy so as to optimize the use of health resources and improve overall health outcomes.
      • The prequalification process consists of a transparent and scientifically sound assessment which includes document review, consistency testing or performance evaluation and site visits to manufacturers.
      • This information along with other procurement criteria is then used by UN and other procurement agencies to make purchasing decisions regarding diagnostics, medicines and vaccines.
      About National Regulatory Agencies
      National Regulatory Agencies (NRAs) are responsible for ensuring that pharmaceuticals and biological products, such as vaccines released for public distribution are evaluated properly and meet international standards of quality and safety.
      World Health Organization (WHO)
      • The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health.
      • Formation: 7 April 1948
      • Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland
      • Head: Margaret Chan, Director General

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