Current Affairs Current Affairs - 29 March 2017 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 29 March 2017

General Affairs 

Lokpal Appointment Not Possible For Now, Government Tells Supreme Court
  • The anti-corruption Lokpal cannot be appointed as of now, the government today told the Supreme Court, which has reserved its verdict on a petition alleging a delay.

    Representing the government, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said changes to the selection committee for the Lokpal have yet to be cleared by parliament.

    "The judiciary must respect separation of powers and can't direct parliament to pass amendments. It is the wisdom of the parliament to pass it," Mr Rohatgi said.

    After the BJP came to power in 2014, the government said the leader of opposition's place in the Lokpal selection committee would stay vacant as the largest opposition group, the Congress, did not qualify with less than 10 per cent seats in parliament. The government later made a concession and decided to include the largest opposition party in the selection panel, but that change is yet to be cleared in parliament.

    Other members of the Lokpal selection panel are the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge, and an eminent jurist recommended by the other members.

    A group of NGOs and activists have asked the court to step in saying it has been three years since the Lokpal law was passed but the ombudsman has not been appointed.

    Changes to other laws have been cleared in parliament to enable the Congress to participate in the selection of the chiefs of the CBI, the Information Commission and the Vigilance Commission.

    Prashant Bhushan, who was a part of social activist Anna Hazare's campaign for a Lokpal, questioned the delay.

    "The formation committee would hold PM, Speaker... and they said that they have not yet declared the leader of Opposition... The law was made three years back but not brought into force," Mr Bhushan said, adding, "Modiji did not allow Lokpal in Gujarat for 10 years. When they had to appoint a CBI director, then immediate amendments were made. But right now there is nothing."

As China Looms, India Set To Pledge Billions To Bangladesh: Foreign Media
  • India is likely to give Bangladesh a credit line of at least $3.5 billion for infrastructure projects during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's state visit in April, as Beijing and New Delhi jostle for geopolitical influence in South Asia.
    The credit line, which would be India's third to its neighbor, would go toward a variety of projects ranging from nuclear and liquefied natural gas power plants to ports, railways and the establishment of special economic zones, according to a Bangladesh government document seen by Bloomberg. New Delhi and Dhaka will also sign a defense cooperation agreement and various memorandums of understanding relating to hydro projects in Bhutan, shipbuilding and upgrading border posts, according to a separate document.

    India is trying to strengthen relationships with neighboring states such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as China continues to court South Asian nations by pledging large sums of money for port and infrastructure projects that New Delhi views with suspicion. In a sign of its deepening ties with Beijing, Bangladesh bought two submarines from China last year.

    The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced a second $2 billion line of credit when he visited Bangladesh in 2015 after an earlier $800 million credit line, has tried to integrate the region's economies with road, rail and shipping routes.

    But even as India seeks to unite its neighbors against its arch-rival Pakistan, New Delhi's financial fire power still pales in comparison to the funds available to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who last year pledged $20 billion in low-cost loans for infrastructure projects, in addition to existing large investments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

    "Ideally, they would like to counter that, but the Chinese offer is such a huge amount, they can't possibly match that," said Harsh Pant, an international relations professor at King's College London.
    Hasina's visit, starting April 7, is her first in seven years, according to India's foreign ministry, and comes against the backdrop of a fresh surge in Islamic State-linked attacks across the country. Bangladesh's growth is expected to increase to 7.2 percent this fiscal year from 7.1 percent last fiscal year, according to government estimates.

    "India will give Bangladesh as much as $5 billion, which is a new development," Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to Hasina, said by phone. "There are many areas to look at, but economic cooperation is the most substantive. Joint investments and joint entrepreneurship will open up the new directions of cooperation."

    A spokesman for India's Ministry for External Affairs, Gopal Baglay, said he could not comment on the issue. Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said he expects some agreements to be signed after the meeting between the two leaders. "We are discussing several energy projects with Bangladesh, such as LNG and supply of petroleum products."

    The credit line would include $940 million for the development of a component of the Rooppur nuclear power plant, $350 million for a multipurpose terminal at Bangladesh's Payra port and $177 million for a power transmission line between India's Jharkhand and Bangladesh's Bogra. It would also include $500 million for a new railway line from Bogra to Sirajganj and $157 million for a solar power project. It would also see India provide $550 million for special economic zones, including at Bangladesh's Mirsorai and Payra.

    The two countries would agree to upgrade some customs posts, as well as establish border markets for vendors, along their 2,545-mile (4,096-kilometer) boundary, and will sign memorandums of understanding relating to shipping routes and the operation of satellites, according to the documents. The $3.57 billion figure listed in the documents does not include funds related to upgrading the border posts.

    India and Bangladesh were also expected to sign MoUs relating to shipbuilding and a joint investment in a hydro power project in Bhutan.

    Seeking to make India a global power, Modi has made progress in boosting ties with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, said Pant, the professor. Both countries joined India in boycotting a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation last year, which was set to be held in Pakistan. And on March 23, Bangladesh signed a deal to join a South Asian satellite project being launched by India -- a project that includes all South Asian nations except Pakistan.

India Not Participating In The UN Talks On Nuclear Weapons Ban
  • India is not participating in the first UN conference in more than 20 years on a global nuclear weapons ban which opened here amid objections from major nuclear powers. More than 120 nations in October last year voted on a UN General Assembly resolution to convene the conference to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. Britain, France, Israel, Russia and the US voted no, while China, India and Pakistan abstained from voting on that resolution.

    The first substantive session of the conference began yesterday.

    In its Explanation of Vote (EoV) given for its abstention on the resolution in October, India had said that it was "not convinced" that the proposed conference could address the longstanding expectation of the international community for a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament.

    India also maintained that the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) is the single multilateral disarmament negotiation forum.

    It had further said that it supports the commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention, which in addition to prohibition and elimination also includes verification.

     It had said that international verification was essential to the global elimination of nuclear weapons, India feels that the current process does not include the verification aspect.

    In line with its position that India articulated in the EoV, India has decided not to participate in the current conference that will run through March 31.

    It will, however, continue to follow the developments in the event.

    The US, France and the UK led a group of over 40 nations that are strongly protesting the UN talks.

    The US' envoy to the UN Nikki Haley said the Assembly "suddenly" wants to have a hearing to ban nuclear weapons and while as a mother and daughter, she wants a world with no nuclear weapons, one also has to be "realistic".

    She said given the current times "bad actors" cannot be allowed to keep their nuclear weapons while other nations try to maintain peace and safety.

    "We would love to have a ban on nuclear weapons but in this day and time we cannot honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them (nuclear weapons) and those of us who are good trying to keep the peace and safety not to have them," Haley told reporters.

    Ms Haley, joined by UK's Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft and her French counterpart François Delattre, spoke just before the General Assembly convened its first substantive session of the conference.

    "We have to be realistic. Is there anyone who believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons? So what you would see is that the General Assembly would go through, in good faith, trying to do something but North Korea would be the one cheering and all of us and the people we represent would be the ones at risk," she said.

    She said Washington believes in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and had reduced its weapons by 85 per cent since the treaty went into place.

    She added that while the US would want to see a world without nuclear weapons, the time for it is not today and it will defend its citizens as well as its friends and allies.

    "One day we will hope we no longer need nuclear weapons. But today, in this day and time, in the situations that we are in, we unfortunately don't have the ability to do that," she said. 

No Tolerance To Illegal Mining In Uttarakhand: Trivendra Singh Rawat
  •  Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on Monday asked officials to adopt zero-tolerance towards illegal mining, days after a forest department employee was killed allegedly by mining mafia in Ramnagar.

    Mr Rawat asked Secretary, Mining, Shailesh Bagoli, to take stern actions against anyone found involved in illegal mining in the state.

    Mr Bagoli said measures are being put in place to help the checkposts personnel distinguish easily between vehicles loaded with legal and illegal mining material.

    He said better coordination between police and district magistrates will be established to nab those engaged in illegal mining.

    Earlier, terming as highly condemnable the alleged murder of the forest beat watcher in Kosi river mining area on March 24, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prakash Pant told the Assembly the government will adopt a policy of "no tolerance" towards illegal mining.

    In reply to an adjournment motion proposed on the issue by Opposition Congress MLA Pritam Singh, he said the state government has spared no effort in taking quick action on the incident.

    "One of the named accused in the case, Jaswant Singh alias Jassi, has already been sent to jail under judicial custody, whereas the rest will also be arrested soon," he said.

    Immediate action was taken in the matter despite the accused trying to seek protection from some powerful connections, Mr Pant said.

    He said the Chief Minister gave a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the family of the deceased on the day of the incident.

    Seeing the economic condition of the family, the CM has also announced another Rs. 4 lakh as compensation and a government job to his wife, the Minister said.

China Building World's Largest Nano Research Facility
  • China is building world's largest multifunctional research platform for nano-technology which would help develop more powerful computers and intelligent robots, official media reported today.

    The Vacuum Interconnected Nano-X Research Facility in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, integrates the state-of-art capabilities of material growth, device fabrication and testing in one ultra-high vacuum environment, Ding Sunan, deputy director of the project said.

    "We are exploring a new technology route of nano-scale devices production on the platform, which simulates the ultra-high vacuum environment of space," Ding, a researcher at the Suzhou Institute of Nano-Tech and Nano-Bionics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences said.

    Nano-X has received initial funding of 320 million yuan (about USD 46.5 million) and will eventually have a budget of 1.5 billion yuan, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

    Construction of the first stage began in 2014 and is expected to be completed in 2018. It comprises 100-metre-long ultra-high vacuum pipelines connecting 30 pieces of equipment.

    Ultimately the facility will have ultra-high vacuum pipelines of about 500 metres, connecting more than 100 large pieces of equipment, Ding said.

    Nano-X is designed as a complete system for materials growth, device fabrication and testing. All samples can be transferred accurately, quickly and smoothly among all tools in an ultra-high vacuum environment.

    The facility can prevent surface contamination from the air, keeping a material's intrinsic properties unchanged and realizing quantum manipulation and control, Ding said.

    Experts say it will help make breakthroughs in common and critical problems in materials science and device technology, and develop new manufacturing technologies of nano-materials and core devices in the fields of energy and information.

    Nano-X is expected to be incorporated into China's national research infrastructure system, and become a world-class open platform for research and development in nano-science and nano-technology, providing advanced technical support for the national strategy of high technologies, the report said.

    Previously a global manufacturing hub, China is currently trying to transform itself into high technology centre  to beat its economic slowdown.

    China has started the construction of one of largest and most sensitive cosmic-ray facilities in Sichuan province.

    Earlier it commissioned the world's biggest telescope in Guizhou Province to search for more strange objects space, gain better understand the origin of the universe and to boost the global hunt for extra-terrestrial life.

Business Affairs 

Land leasing, renting to attract GST from July 1
  • Come July 1 and leasing of land, renting of buildings as well as EMIs paid for purchase of under-construction houses will start attracting the Goods and Services Tax. Sale of land and buildings will be however out of the purview of GST, the new indirect tax regime.
    Such transactions will continue to attract the stamp duty, according to the legislations Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday for approval. Electricity has also been kept out of the GST ambit. GST, which the government intends to roll out from July 1, 2017, will subsume central excise, service tax and state VAT among other indirect levies on manufactured goods and services.
    The Central GST (CGST) bill -- one of the four legislations introduced, states that any lease, tenancy, easement, licence to occupy land will be considered as supply of service. Also, any lease or letting out of the building, including a commercial, industrial or residential complex for business or commerce, either wholly or partly, is a supply of services as per the CGST bill. The GST bills provide that sale of land and, sale of building except the sale of under construction building will nether be treated as a supply of goods not a supply of services. Thus GST can't be levied in those supplies.
    'Goods' in earlier drafts of the bills were defined as every kind of movable property other than money and securities but includes actionable claim. 'Services' were defined as anything other than goods. It was thought that GST may be levied on supply of immovable property such as Land or building apart from levy of stamp duty. But the bills presented in Parliament have now clarified this position.
    Tax experts said that currently service tax is levied on rents paid for commercial and industrial units, although it is exempt for residential units. Deloitte Haskins Sells LLP Senior Director M S Mani said: "While service tax is applicable at present on sale of under construction apartments, it is levied on a lower value as abatement allowed. The abatement is ostensibly to take care of the value of the land involved in the construction of apartments".
    He said the GST Rules, which will come up for discussion in the Council meeting on March 31, would help ascertain whether a lower rate of GST is proposed for such transactions or whether a similar abatement procedure would be prescribed.
    "This would also be dependent on the rate fixation committee which is expected to finalise its recommendations in April," Mani said. Experts said service tax is currently levied on payments made for under-construction residential houses after providing abatement, which brings down the effective rate from 18 per cent to around 6 per cent.
    "The government is trying its best to make GST litigation free. The bills very clearly specify that GST would be charged on any lease of land or letting out of the building or construction of a complex, building, civil structure or a part thereof, where whole or any part of consideration has been received before issuance of completion certificate or its first occupation," Nangia & Co Director Rajat Mohan said.
    Experts said the GST subsumes central levies like excise and service tax and local levies like VAT, entertainment tax, luxury tax. However, it does not subsume Electricity Duty. Since the GST Constitution Amendment Act does not provide for subsuming 'electricity duty' under GST, it will continue to be levied by the respective state governments. Certain states like Delhi exempt residential properties from electricity duty but levy it on commercial and industrial units.

I-T dept seizes Rs 600 cr in cash, valuables post note ban
  • The Income Tax Department has seized cash and valuables totalling Rs 600 crore in search and survey operations post demonetisation of high value currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000.
    Based on intelligence reports, the department carried out searches and surveys in over 1,100 cases during the two-month period ending January 10, 2017 leading to seizure of cash and valuables, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
    During the same period, more than 5,100 notices were issued for verification of suspicious high value cash deposits made in bank accounts, he said, adding that "these actions led to seizure of cash and valuables of more than Rs 610 crore".
    He further said that the information collected was shared with other law enforcement agencies including the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI for appropriate action.
    As part of the 'Operation Clean Money' launched on January 31, 2017, Jaitley said the I-T department would leverage technology and data analysis for e-verification of cash deposits made during the demonetisation period.
    About 18 lakh persons have identified for such online verification and more than 12 lakh online responses from 8.38 lakh distinct PANs/persons have been received, he said.
    "In cases where explanation of source of cash is found justified, the verifications are to be closed. The verifications are also to be closed if the cash deposit is declared under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna (PMGKY).
    "Enforcement actions in non-compliant cases are being taken as part of the on-going drive against tax evasion, which includes searches, surveys, verifications, assessment of income, levy of taxes, penalties and filing of prosecution complaints in criminal courts, wherever applicable," said Jaitley.
    The government scrapped the high value currency notes of Rs 500/1000 with effect from mid-night of November 8 and permitted people to exchange and deposit scrapped notes in banks till December 30, 2016.

Govt brings back 10% tax on wheat and tur imports
  • Government on Tuesday imposed a 10 per cent import tax on wheat with immediate effect, sources said, reinstating the tariff after a gap of nearly four months that saw large overseas purchases.
    The government wants to curb imports when Indian farmers are starting to harvest their crops, said three sources directly involved in deciding on the issue. They declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak on the matter.
    Earlier this month, government sources had said New Delhi could impose a 25 percent import tax on wheat.
    India, the world's second-biggest wheat producer, lowered the import tax on wheat to 10 percent from 25 percent last September and scrapped the duty on December 8.
    On Tuesday, the government also imposed a 10 percent tax on Tur, a variety of pulse, after a crash in local prices.
    Waves of farmers have stepped up local production of pulses to help the government cut a hefty import bill.
    The permission for duty-free imports had encouraged private traders to buy more than 5 million tonnes of wheat since mid-2016 to meet a supply shortfall left by two years of drought.
    Most flour millers and biscuit makers imported wheat from France, Ukraine and Australia.
    Both large imports and forecasts of a bumper crop prompted the government to impose the tax, the sources said.
    The farm ministry last month forecast wheat output at 96.64 million tonnes in 2017, up from 92.29 million tonnes last year.

    Sensex ends 172 pts higher, Nifty hold above 9,100
    • The benchmark indices opened on a higher note and continued to sustain gains through the day. The Sensex gained over 180 points in trade on Tuesday and Nifty climbed well past its 9,100-mark.
      The positive sentiment was impacted by a good rally on Wall Street followed by upbeat trend in the Asian markets.
      Most of the Asian stocks rose as investors looked beyond the failure of the Trump administration to replace the Obamacare, aided by improving macroeconomic data out of the US and Europe.
      In the domestic front, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley briefed lawmakers about the four GST Bills - Central GST, Integrated GST, Union Territory GST and the Compensation Law - introduced in Lok Sabha which will be taken up for consideration on Wednesday.

      Buzzing stocks
      Axis Bank was the top gainer on the BSE gaining over 3 per cent after the private sector bank informed the bourses that it has raised senior notes in the international market. The stock was the top Sensex gainer.
      Bharti Infratel surged as much as 3.63 per cent after global private equity investor KKR & Co LP and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board bought a 10.3 per cent stake in the company for more than Rs 61.9 billion.
      BSE Telecom index was the leading sectoral gainer with over 1 per cent gain.
      Dishman Pharma soared as much as 20 per cent to an all-time high after company's partner Tesaro Inc got the USFDA's nod for an ovarian cancer drug, Zejula.
      Other top performers on the BSE index were HDFC, Tata Motors, Asian Paints and ICICI Bank gaining over 1 per cent.
      On the NSE nifty Index, Eicher motors and Axis Bank were the top gainers.
      Market Closing:
      The S&P BSE Sensex ended the day at 29,409.52, having rallied 172.37 points.
      The top gainer was Axis Bank while ONGC was the biggest laggard.
      The Nifty50 closed at 9,100.80, up 55.60 points.
      Eicher Motors was the top gainer on the NSE while Tech Mahindra was the top loser.
      Nifty Bank closed 168 points higher after bank stocks outperformed in todays trade.
      However in the metal space, gold and silver dipped gains. 
      1.05 PM:
      Europe markets open higher. Asian markets continue to rally.
      12.56 PM:
      Gas prices to be marginally hiked by April 1, 2017, reported CNBC TV 18.
      This marks the first upward movement of gas prices in over 2 years.
      The prices are likely to be hiked to $2.60-2.80 from $2.50 per unit, while premium prices are to be revised from $5.30 to $5.80per unit.
      12.27 PM:
      NTPC announced today that its board has approved investment of Rs 3,004 crore for Talaipalli Coal Mining Project which has an estimated 18 million tonnes per annum capacity in Chhattisgarh.
      "In line with the Corporate Disclosure requirements, we wish to inform that the Board of Directors of the Company has accorded investment approval for Talaipalli Coal Mining Project (18 Million Tonnes per annum) at an appraised current estimated cost of Rs 3,004 crore," NTPC Ltd said in a statement.
      NTPC has been allotted coal blocks namely, Pakri-Barwadih, Chatti-Bariatu, Kerandari, Dulanga, Talaipalli and Chatti-Bariatu (South), Banai, Bhalumunda and Mandakini B.
      12.23 PM:
      Aurobindo Pharma has received final approval from the USFDA for Meropenem injection used for treatment of complicated skin and related infections, complicated intra abdominal infections and bacterial meningitis.
      The company "has received final approval from the US Food & Drug Administration (USFDA) to manufacture and market Meropenem injection 500 mg/vial and 1g/ vial," Aurobindo Pharma said in a filing to BSE.
      This is a generic version of AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals' Merrem injection, it added.
      "The approved product has an estimated market size of USD 118 million for the 12-month ending January 2017, according to IMS," said Aurobindo Pharma.
      The scrip was trading 1.60 per cent higher on the BSE.
      11.42 AM:
      Axis Bank led the BSE gains clocking 2.48 per cent.
      9.35 AM:
      KKR buys 10 per cent stake in Bharti Infratel from Bharti Airtel at Rs 325 per share, reported CNBC TV 18.
      The stock of Bharti Infra rose 3.14 per cent on the BSE.
      9.29 AM:
      Pharma major Sun Pharma has climbed 1.04 per cent. 
      9.26 AM:
      Among the top gainers on the BSE, Axis Bank was leading the rally 1.50 per cent higher, followed by WIPRO (1.17 per cent), NTPC (0.95 per cent) and Bharti Airtel (0.95 per cent). 
      9.19 AM:
      Shares of Dishman Pharma has surged over 20 per cent after the US FDA approves Cancer drug, Zejula for Tesaro Inc.
      9.16 AM:
      Bank Nifty opens 175 points higher led by ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Induslnd Bank.
      BSE Sensex kicks off at 29,351.96, up 114.81 points.
      Nifty starts at 9,085.75, up 40.55 points.
      9.13 AM:
      Market pre opening suggests a positive rally 

      9.08 AM:
      Asian stocks advanced on Tuesday after Wall Street steadied and the dollar bounced from a four-month-low, as anxiety over Donald Trump's setback on healthcare reform gave way to tentative hopes for the us President's planned stimulus policies.
      Asian markets picked up pace on Tuesday on the back of Wall Street that gained stability and the US dollar that bounced from a four-month-low as investors fear over Trump's healthcare setback converted to hopes for the US President's planned stimulus policies.
      Japan's Nikkei jumped 1 per cent, its biggest one-day gain in more than two weeks, while the Chinese Shanghai Composite dipped  0.29 per cent and the Hang Seng Index stiffened up 121.73 points, adding 0.50 per cent to the bourse.
      China's market was one of the region's underperformers, with the CSI 300 index about 0.2 percent lower and the Shanghai Composite down 0.4 percent.
      Overnight, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed lower but had narrowed their losses from earlier in the session, when both hit near-six-week lows. The Nasdaq ended higher.
      Risk appetite had evaporated after Trump's failure to garner enough support last week to pass a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's signature health care bill, even with a Republican-controlled Congress.
      That blow for Trump spooked global risk assets on concerns about the president's ability to enact stimulus policies. The MSCI World index, which had stumbled last week, managed to recover, as confidence returned that the Trump administration will corral Congressional support for other pro-growth policies.

      How an Indian cotton seed producer took on US giant Monsanto
      • Tens of millions of dollars were within reach for M. Prabhakara Rao as he prepared in April 2015 to take his Indian cotton seed company public.
        The Indian businessman already had $54 million in initial funding from an American private equity investor. Rao had also locked in a long-term licensing agreement with Monsanto Co, the world's largest seed company, for the technology used in genetically modified cotton seeds that made up the majority of his annual sales.
        Two months after publishing his initial public offering plan, Rao gambled. He sent one of his executives to negotiate a 10 percent cut in royalties with Monsanto. The multinational said no.
        The outcome of that meeting ignited a corporate battle that has left Rao's IPO plans in tatters and drawn in the Indian and U.S. governments. More ominously, the fight has disrupted India's $1.8 billion-a-year seed industry, with Monsanto saying it may abandon the market.
        Monsanto's Indian joint venture last July withdrew its application to introduce a new generation of cotton seed technology to India. The existing version, in India for a decade, is losing effectiveness against bollworms, which can wipe out crops. If another company doesn't step into the breach, agricultural economists warn the dispute could damage India's cotton-growing sector - which recently surpassed China's as the world's biggest and last year accounted for more than a quarter of global output, with a value of over $8.5 billion.
        To an outsider, Rao's decision to take on Monsanto in a David-and-Goliath battle may seem hard to fathom. But the rules of doing business in India have changed. With the rise to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 on a groundswell of Hindu nationalism, newly assertive right-wing groups, suspicious of foreign influence and particularly outspoken against large multinationals like Monsanto, now hold sway in the government.
        The leaders of these groups operate under the umbrella of the powerful Hindu nationalist group known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, Hindi for "national volunteer organization." They speak of returning India to an ancient, Hindu glory that was ravaged by foreign imperial powers. More pragmatically, they're amassing power.
        Modi himself first attended RSS meetings at the age of 8 and was propelled to power with the group's help. A series of crucial ministries, including agriculture, are now run by ministers who are members of the RSS and its affiliates. Members of these Hindu nationalist groups also form a network of influential mandarins who seldom surface in public. They have the ear of the prime minister and those around him.
        A lean, moustachioed man, Rao denies seeking the support of the RSS or working in tandem with the group, which wants indigenous varieties of cotton seed to replace Monsanto's products. But RSS powerbrokers - including the agriculture minister himself - told Reuters that Rao approached them for help in his battle with Monsanto. And they say they were happy to weigh in.
        The agriculture minister, longtime RSS member Radha Mohan Singh, says his decision to intervene in the dispute was driven by the need to serve the interests of all Indian farmers, not just Rao.
        The timing of Singh's actions, though, was telling. In the months after the meeting between Monsanto and Rao's man in Mumbai, the agriculture ministry first challenged and then slashed the royalties Monsanto is able to charge in India. The ministry called for an antitrust investigation into alleged monopolistic practices by the company. It also floated the idea of a compulsory licensing regime that would all but force Monsanto and other firms to hand over their proprietary technology to major Indian seed companies that applied for licenses.
        Prime Minister Modi hasn't publicly commented on the matter. After the U.S. ambassador intervened last year, according to two people familiar with the dispute, the Indian government suspended the compulsory licensing proposal. The other measures remain in place.
        After years of seeking more leverage with Monsanto, Rao found in the rise of Modi and the RSS an opportunity to challenge the company's domination of the Indian market. It was against this backdrop that he dispatched senior company executive P. Sateesh Kumar, a Ph.D. in agricultural genetics, to Monsanto's Mumbai headquarters in 2015.
        At the time, Rao's company, Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd, was behind on royalty payments to Monsanto and on its way to racking up, by Monsanto's calculations, more than $20 million in debt. And its American investor, Blackstone Group LP, was waiting for the IPO to go through. Nonetheless, Kumar sat down in a corner conference room on the fifth floor and conveyed Rao's demand for a reduction in royalties. Monsanto delivered its answer there and then: That wasn't going to happen.
        Before Kumar left the meeting on that hot June day, he paused. He told the executives from Monsanto and its Indian joint venture that there would be "consequences" for refusing Rao a discount, according to a letter Monsanto sent to the government and which was reviewed by Reuters. Kumar says he did not use such language.
        In an interview in which he let loose peals of laughter, Rao pointed out that the first item under "Risk Factors" in the IPO prospectus for his company, of which he controls more than 80 percent of shares, was the possibility of his contract with Monsanto being disrupted. Still, he said, Monsanto made a mistake in thinking it had the upper hand.
        Monsanto declined to answer questions on the role of the RSS in Rao's campaign. "We conduct our business in an honest, transparent and respectful manner and continue to engage with stakeholders across the spectrum," the company said.
        Monsanto is backed in the dispute by chemical giant Bayer AG, which is in the process of buying the seed company for $66 billion. It also has the support of the local units of other seed heavyweights, including Dow Chemical Co and Syngenta AG. In August, these multinationals held a news conference in which they called for transparency in government regulation and licensing. Failure to do so, they warned, would endanger future investment in India.
        An RSS spokesman referred queries about Rao and Monsanto to the RSS farmers' union, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. Its vice president, a man named Prabhakar Kelkar, said the union was working with Rao, who had approached it to complain about Monsanto's seed pricing.
        "It is important for all of us to unite to wage a war against Monsanto. No one can do it alone, be it Rao or the" farmers' union, Kelkar told Reuters. "We are cooperating with him because he is fighting a battle that is meant for greater good."
        Monsanto and Rao are now locked in a series of government complaints, litigation and arbitration.
        Citing an Indian law that excludes seeds from being patented, Rao says Monsanto should never have been allowed to collect royalties after an initial payment to use its technology. Or, at the very least, he adds, prices should have been set by the government.
        The bollworm threatAfter hitting a record high in 2014, cotton yields and output in India have declined due to a pest attack and two straight droughts. Farming experts say that yields from the current strain of Monsanto's modified cotton seed (Bollgard II) have hit a plateau as the seeds lose effectiveness against crop-eating bollworms. To maintain its position as the world's top cotton producer, say the experts, India needs to introduce Monsanto's next-generation Bollgard III. India's agriculture minister and the RSS say they prefer a homegrown alternative to Monsanto's seed technology.
        The technology currently licensed out by Monsanto is known as Bollgard II. The company received a patent in 2009 in India for Bollgard II's ability to modify cotton seeds to include a microbe called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which fortifies cotton plants against bollworms.     
        Monsanto says Rao and a small group of other seed companies demanding a reduction in royalties are simply trying to renege on contracts and money owed. Dhiraj Pant, who oversees tech development for Monsanto across Asia, said it would have been preferable if the Indian seed companies had not pushed for the government to step in. "It is unfortunate that these disputing companies sought policy interventions to address a bilateral matter," said Pant.
        The RSS, which has its own farmer and labor unions, was formed in 1925 to campaign against British colonial rule. It seeks to instill a nationalist vision of India as a Hindu nation, despite large minority populations that include Muslims and Christians.
        The group nurtured Modi's rise - in his early days in the RSS he cleaned floors at a local chapter office. And the RSS helped form the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
        But Modi and his RSS backers have differing views about the role of foreign multinationals. In his 13 years as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, Modi was an early supporter of genetically modified cotton. His administration there allowed farmers to plant Monsanto-modified seeds, known as Bt cotton, before the technology received official approval in New Delhi.
        His approach contradicted the RSS stance against multinationals operating in the agricultural sector, particularly when it comes to genetically modified crops.
        The tension simmered for years. After Modi's election in 2014, the RSS began its push.
        A senior leader in the RSS farmers' union, a man named Mohini Mohan Mishra, began holding study sessions with leaders in the ruling party and the Modi administration to argue against genetically modified crops. One of Mishra's presentation slides pointed to the rise in popularity of organic food in the West. Another slide said of Monsanto: "It created seed monopoly, a threat to seed sovereignty."
        Monsanto's mistake was that it did not approach the RSS to plead its case, said Mishra in an interview at his office in central Delhi, which has peeling paint, dirty rugs and, in summer months, mosquitoes buzzing inside.
        "It was the overconfidence of Monsanto that has destroyed their chances to do business in India," said Mishra. "They failed to study and understand the RSS."
        Rao, meanwhile, was lobbying Modi's government. Sometime in 2015, he met with Singh, the agriculture minister and RSS member.
        The powerbrokers and officials of the Congress party that ruled India for most of its independent history tended to espouse secular ideology in clipped English accents that hinted at elite schooling at home and abroad. The RSS leadership speaks of rural roots and the virtues of the homegrown.
        Singh is cut from that cloth. At the beginning of one interview he paused to fold a small wad of snuff in his left cheek as an attendant brought a metal spittoon. He was not hard to convince that Monsanto was in the wrong, said Rao.
        "The truth is that Monsanto was dominating the market, and that is not good for India's farming practices," said Singh. "We should have our own seeds to compete with them."
        After Monsanto declared Rao's company in breach of payment obligations and terminated its contract in November 2015, Singh's agriculture ministry moved swiftly.
        The next month, the ministry established a panel to fix the price of genetically modified cotton seeds and the royalties Monsanto was allowed to collect.
        Less than two weeks later, a junior minister under Singh's command told parliament that the ministry had asked India's antitrust regulator to consider investigating whether Monsanto abused its dominance in the marketplace. He said the National Seed Association of India, of which Rao is the president, had asked his ministry to intervene in the dispute. An antitrust investigation was formally launched in February last year.
        On March 4, 2016, Monsanto's chief executive for India put out a statement threatening to leave the country. Four days later, Singh's ministry slashed the royalty paid by local firms to sellers of genetically modified cotton seed technology, a market dominated by Monsanto, by about 70 percent.
        Two months later, the agriculture ministry proposed compulsory licensing for Monsanto's technology. It was this move that prompted the U.S. ambassador to India at the time, Richard Verma, to approach Modi's office. People familiar with the matter said Verma wrote to Modi's principal secretary, Nripendra Misra, after the agriculture ministry did not respond to two previous letters. After the ambassador and Misra met, the government suspended the licensing measure.
        During a visit to India last year, the U.S. commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker, said she had raised the Monsanto dispute with the government. "Companies will look to see how this is resolved because it sends a message about the seriousness of the current government to protect intellectual property," said Pritzker, who stepped down this January.
        An aide close to Modi declined to discuss whether the prime minister had personally intervened in the licensing dispute. He said the issue would "remain open" for the foreseeable future. "Sometimes the best decision is not to take a decision," the aide said. The prime minister's office did not answer questions from Reuters.
        Asked about Rao and his fight with Monsanto, Singh denied granting the businessman any favors.
        Kelkar, from the RSS farmers' union, said the RSS had pushed for Singh to act against Monsanto. "In the previous regime we had to stand on the streets to launch anti-Monsanto protests," Kelkar said. "But with this government we can sit and talk in a room - it's because we all believe in the same agenda."
        The impact of the dispute on Monsanto's bottom line became clear late last year when the company released its results: Sales of seeds and genetic traits for cotton dropped 16 percent, or $83 million, in the fiscal year ending August. That was "primarily due to lower average net selling price in India as a result of new government pricing policies," the report said.
        The dispute's fallout could have grave implications, says Ashok Gulati, an agricultural economist who has advised the government on crop support prices in the past.
        "The whole fiasco will dissuade global seed or technology companies from investing in India," Gulati said. In the short term, he said, India might get by with a local alternative to genetically modified cotton. "But in the long-term, say beyond five years or so, we need a technology that can propel India's cotton output. But then, political masters don't look beyond immediate gains."
        Rao says that Monsanto and others deserve a return on their investment. But he wants royalty rates to be determined by government rules. In an interview, he pointed to the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, which gives the regulator the power to fix royalty rates. The government fails, however, to exercise that authority, enabling Monsanto to dictate terms, says Rao.
        In October, the government announced a change in the board that oversees the plant varieties act. A new member had been added: M. Prabhakara Rao.

        Timeline: How Monsanto got outplayed
        The fight led by M. Prabhakara Rao, the head of Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd, against global seed giant Monsanto Co erupted in 2015. What at first looked like a David-and-Goliath showdown - Monsanto's $15 billion of sales that year were roughly 80 times that of the firm headquartered in the south India city of Hyderabad - quickly became an example of how the rules of doing business have changed under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
        APRIL 2015 - Rao is poised to make tens of millions of dollars by taking his company public. In a prospectus for taking  Nuziveedu Seeds public, the first item under risk factors is the possibility that his company could lose its agreements with Monsanto, brokered through its local joint venture. But there was something that wasn't spelled out in the prospectus: India's newly powerful right-wing factions, under the organizational umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or "national volunteer organization," are suspicious of foreign influence and voice particular disdain for large international corporations. Like Monsanto. That gives Rao an opening. Even with the risk to his IPO, Rao makes a decision: He is going to take on Monsanto.
        JUNE 2015 - Only about three months after renewing his contract, Rao chooses to push his demand for a 10 percent cut in royalties he pays for Monsanto's technology. Monsanto representatives tell one of his executives at a meeting in Mumbai that the answer is no. According to a subsequent letter sent to India's agriculture ministry by Monsanto's joint venture, the executive threatened there would be "consequences" for that decision.
        JULY 2015 - A group of nine seed companies, including Nuziveedu, writes to Monsanto's joint venture in India saying they want to renegotiate the fees they pay. Their reasoning: some state courts have set the amounts that can be charged for seeds. The companies, in turn, want to reduce the fees they pay Monsanto.
        In August, the National Seed Association of India, an organization of which Rao is the president, writes to the director of Monsanto's joint venture in India and makes a similar argument. The director responds that such contracts are bilateral and that they should approach Monsanto directly. Among those he cc's: Rao.
        NOVEMBER 2015 - As tensions increase, Monsanto's joint venture in India sends a notice to Rao's company that it is terminating their agreement. At the time, Monsanto says, Nuziveedu owes almost 1.4 billion rupees, or more than $20 million.
        DECEMBER 2015 - With the relationship between Rao and Monsanto unraveling, India's agriculture ministry, headed by a lifelong RSS member, steps into the fray. The first big move is an announcement of a cotton seed price regime.
        DECEMBER 2015 - The agriculture ministry then informs India's upper house of parliament that "allegations of monopolistic practices" by Monsanto's joint venture in India have been referred for investigation to the Competition Commission of India.
        MARCH 2016 - With its setbacks mounting, in particular government recommendations to reduce the amount paid for its seed technology, Monsanto says it will have to "reevaluate every aspect of our position in India."
        MARCH 2016 - India's junior agriculture minister at the time Sanjeev Balyan tells Reuters that Monsanto is free to leave India: "We're not scared if Monsanto leaves the country."
        MAY 2016 - The Indian government passes a measure that will essentially force firms like Monsanto to hand over genetically modified crop technology to any qualified Indian firm that applies for it. After lobbying by the U.S. ambassador to India, the measure is frozen.
        Late 2016 - The costs of the battle have shown up in Monsanto's bottom line. In its 2016 annual report, the company says its sales of seeds and genetic traits for cotton have dropped by 16 percent, or $83 million, in the fiscal year ending August.

      General Awareness

      ISRO Joins 36th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica

      • The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) officially declared that it has launched four teams to the 36th scientific mission to Antarctica on March 22, 2017. The mission has been organized by The National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), Ministry of Earth Sciences and Government of India.
        • Climatic change is the main area of focus in this Expedition.
        The four teams that went to Antarctica are as follows,
        1. Space Applications Centre (SAC) Ahmadabad with two members
        2. National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) Hyderabad with four researchers
        3. Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) Dehradun with one scientist and
        4. Space Physics Laboratory(SPL) VSSC Thiruvananthapuram with three members
        • The first ever Indian Expedition to Antarctica is carried out on 1982-1982 by Dr. Sayed Zahoor Qasim and team.
        • India has three research stations in Antarctica namely Dakshin Gangotri, Maitri and Bharati.
        The main objective of this expedition is to install stakes on ice for Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) measurements around Bharati and Maitri to validate glacier surface velocity derived from satellite data and to estimate thickness of snow over land and sea ice using Ground Penetrating Radars (GPR’s). In addition to that, snow over sea and land ice is to be verified.
        Roles played by Space Applications Centre (SAC) 
        Space Applications Centre (SAC) is doing research in the area of Cryosphere under its Earth Observation Program.
        • The team carried out helicopter based aerial surveys and collected data over the Antarctica ice-sheet, fast ice and sea ice floe.
        • Bamboo stakes were installed over Polar Record glacier for measuring glacier surface ice velocity.
        • GPR data of various Antarctic ice features were collected at three different frequencies of 400 MHz, 500 MHz and 1GHz. It may be noted that 500 MHz GPR was indigenously developed by SAC.
        Roles played by National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC)
        • Out of four researchers from National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), three of them have participated in voyage, carrying out scientific observations on board ship en-routed to Antarctica on green house gases and aerosols.
        • The observations included snow density, wetness and profile temperature in 26 pits dug on sheet ice.
        Roles played by Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS)
        The single scientist from Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) made a study on Validation of remote sensing and model based Antarctica Ice sheet features and glacier landforms.
        • Extensive field campaigns were conducted jointly with Geological Survey of India (GSI) as both studies have common objectives and study area.
        Roles played by Space Physics Laboratory (SPL)
        The team of three scientists from Space Physics Laboratory (SPL) conducted experiments in the areas of Polar Atmosphere and Polar Ionosphere.
        • These studies are carried out by making measurements of aerosol black carbon.
        • Balloon borne measurements of wind, temperature, humidity and ozone, measurement of boundary layer parameters using sonic anemometers as well as surface level measurements of various trace gases.

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