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Current Affairs - 11 April 2017

General Affairs 

Opposition Parties To Meet Election Commission Over Alleged 'EVM Tampering'
  • Various opposition parties have decided to unite and take up the issue of alleged Electronic Voting Machines, or EVM tampering with the Election Commission. Their allegation is that faulty EVMs were used in the recently-held elections. They also want to put forth the demand that upcoming elections be held with 50 per cent use of VVPAT and ballot paper. Leaders of various opposition parties today met in Parliament and decided to jointly meet the Election Commission, demanding that their concerns on the issue be addressed.

    The opposition leaders decided to put forth their demand before the Election Commission for simultaneous use of VVPAT (paper trail of voting) and ballot paper in 50 per cent constituencies each for elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh slated later this year. "This will help check the voting system and dispel all doubts about their use in elections," said a leader.

    Opposition leaders have been demanding that VVPAT be introduced in all future elections. The Congress has also been pushing for use of ballot papers instead of EVMs in upcoming elections in view of the alleged tampering.

    The parties are demanding that the Election Commission dispel the apprehensions they have and reassure the people of the country and voters on the serious issue. The opposition parties observed that free and fair elections are the basic founding blocks on which the entire edifice of country has been maintained.

    "Any erosion of these basic principles which sustain this edifice needs to be addressed forthwith and in the right earnest," said another leader.

    The opposition parties, including arch-rivals the Left and the Trinamool Congress, will meet the Election Commission.

    Among those present at today's strategy meeting held at Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad's chamber in Parliament included Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha, besides JDU leader Ali Anwar Ansari, TMC leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, BSP leader Satish Misra and SP leader Neeraj Shekhar.

    NCP leader Majeed Memon, CPI leader D Raja, CPI-M leader CP Narayanan and RJD leader JP Narain Yadav were also present during the meeting and all decided to strongly raise the issue with the Election Commission.

India, Australia Ink 6 Pacts; To Boost Counter-Terror Cooperation
  • India and Australia today inked six pacts including one aimed at boosting counter-terrorism cooperation after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull in New Delhi.

    The two leaders held comprehensive discussions on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest and concern.

    At a joint press event with Prime Minister Turnbull, PM Modi said they reviewed the entire gamut of ties and took many "forward looking" decisions including one on early holding of the next round of talks on comprehensive economic cooperation agreement.

    Emphasising on peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, Prime Minister Modi said challenges like terrorism and cyber security require global strategy and solutions.

    The two sides inked a pact to boost counter-terrorism cooperation which was signed between the Ministry of Home Affairs and its counterpart Australian ministry.

    While Prime Minister Modi noted that Australia was ready to supply uranium to India, Mr Turnbull said his government was looking forward to exporting uranium to India "as soon as possible".

    Prime Minister Turnbull arrived yesterday on a four-day visit, his first to India after assuming office in 2015.

Liquor Shops Across Madhya Pradesh To Be Shut Down In Phases: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan
  • Madhya Pradesh is headed towards total prohibition as Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced that all liquor shops would be closed across the state in a phased manner. "Alcohol prohibition will be implemented in the entire state by closing all liquor shops in a phased manner," Mr Chouhan said while addressing a programme at village Neemkhera (Heerapur) of Narsinghpur district yesterday.

    This programme was organised during the ongoing river conservation awareness campaign 'Namami Devi Narmade - Narmada Seva Yatra.'

    "In the first phase, the state government closed all the shops falling within a radius of five kilometers from the banks of river Narmada on either side. In the next phase, the liquor shops would not be allowed to open in residential localities, near educational institutes or religious places," the chief minister said.

    Mr Chouhan reiterated that a de-addiction drive would also be launched in the state soon.

    During past one month, several protests against liquor shops have been reported from across the state.

    On April 5, the protesters had burnt two vehicles and damaged four others in Bareli town of Raisen district when Excise Department was trying to shift the liquor shops from a highway to a local residential colony.

    Earlier on April 3, BJP MLA from Indore, Sudarshan Gupta had demanded total liquor prohibition in the state.

    Besides, protests were also reported from several parts of the state including Indore, Sagar, Burhanpur, Chhatarpur, Vidisha, Narsinghpur, Satna, Morena, Dewas and some other towns during last one month.

Shiv Sena Praises Yogi Adityanath, Tells Devendra Fadnavis To Learn From Him
  • The Shiv Sena today showered praise on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for taking quick decisions to ensure people's welfare in his state and asked Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to take lessons from his Uttar Pradesh counterpart.

    An editorial in Shiv Sena's mouthpiece 'Saamana' said Yogi Adityanath proved all his critics wrong and was taking one decision after the other in all seriousness for the welfare of the people in his state. "He is striving in a commendable way to elevate his state from ruins and he is very serious in his work," it said.

    Shiv Sena especially praised Mr Adityanath for deciding to write off loans of farmers, a demand which all parties in Maharashtra had raised.

    "If a bit of this seriousness is imbibed by rulers of Maharashtra, they will surely be blessed. Yogi in his first cabinet meet announced a loan waiver for farmers but here the government has only said it would look into the Yogi model and appears to be waiting for debt-burdened farmers to commit suicide," the Shiv Sena said.

    "Wearing the mask of seriousness without imbibing the qualities is of no use. Those who are in power here should borrow seriousness from Yogi Adityanath," it said.

There's An 'Earth-Like' Planet With An Atmosphere Just 39 Light-Years Away
  • There are a lot of good reasons to be captivated by the exoplanet GJ 1132b. Located in the constellation Vela, it's a mere 39 light-years from Earth - just a hop, skip and a jump in galactic terms. It's similar to Earth in terms of size and mass, and it dances in a close-in orbit around its star, a dimly burning red dwarf.

    And, astronomers recently discovered, it has an atmosphere.

    The finding, published in the Astronomical Journal, is the first detection of an atmosphere around a terrestrial "Earth-like" planet orbiting a red dwarf star - and it suggests there could be millions more.

    Although the researchers call the planet "Earth-like," the term is only applicable in its broadest sense. GJ 1132b is so close to its sun that it more likely resembles Venus than Earth. Astronomers estimate its average temperature to be about 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and that's without taking into account the potential greenhouse effect of its atmosphere. It is also probably tidally locked, meaning that gravity keeps one side of the planet constantly facing the star, while the other is cast in permanent shadow. GJ 1132b would not make a cozy home for life - at least, not life as we know it. But the presence of an atmosphere around the exoplanet could have consequences in the search for life on worlds beyond our own, according to lead author John Southworth, an astrophysicist at Keele University in the United Kingdom. Red dwarfs like the one GJ 1132b orbits are the most abundant type of star in the universe, and exoplanet surveys suggest that terrestrial planets around them are also common. If one of them has an atmosphere, then why not more?

    "It shows that the huge number of planets in the universe which are like this could have atmospheres themselves and maybe life," Southworth said.

    GJ 1132b was detected in 2015 using the transiting method for exoplanet discovery. Astronomers at a telescope in Chile monitored the light emanating from the planet's host star, GJ 1132, for tiny dips caused by the planet passing in front of it. Their observations revealed that GJ 1132 dims by 3 percent once every 1.6 days - showing how frequently the planet orbits the star.

    When GJ 1132b's discovery was announced, Southworth had developed a technique for modifying the transiting method to determine whether a thin envelope of gas might surround a passing planet by separating the star's light into its component parts. He and his colleagues angled their telescope, an instrument with a 2.2-meter-wide mirror located in the high desert of Chile. They found that light in what's known as the "z-band" - a range of wavelengths in the near-infrared end of the spectrum - dimmed just slightly more than other wavelengths. This is the type of light that was being absorbed by the planet's atmosphere, while all the others passed through.

    More detailed observations will be required to determine what the atmosphere is made of. Southworth suggested that the absorption of near-infrared light suggests it could be rich in water vapor or methane.

    Marek Kukula, the public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, told the BBC that Southworth's paper "is a nice proof of concept."

    "If the technology can detect an atmosphere today, then it bodes well for being able to detect and study the atmospheres of even more Earth-like planets in the not-too-distant future," Kukula said.

    The discovery proves not only that Southworth's technique can be used to detect atmospheres, but that it's possible for planets hosted by red dwarfs to contain them. These stars are known for high levels of activity that could potentially strip planets of their protective gases - much as the sun depleted Mars's atmosphere when the Red Planet lost its magnetic field. The discovery at GJ 1132b, Southworth said, makes him optimistic that this needn't always be the case.

    A statement from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, where several of Southworth's co-authors are based, noted that atmosphere detection is an essential component of scientists' strategy for detecting life on an exoplanet. Astronomers are on the lookout for "biosignatures" - specific ratios of certain chemicals that can best be explained by the presence of living organisms. On Earth, for example, the presence of large amounts of oxygen in our atmosphere is the signature of the photosynthetic organisms that populate our planet.

Business Affairs 

Petrol pumps to remain shut every Sunday from May 14: report
  • Indian petroleum companies have decided to shut down petrol pumps every Sunday from May 14 onwards, according a report.
    The Consortium of India Petroleum Dealers has reportedly taken the decision keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision to reduce fuel consumption.
    "In line with the Prime Minister's appeal to reduce fuel consumption the CIPD has decided to request its members to declare Sunday as holiday from 14 May 2017," the Business Standard quoted A D Sathyanarayan, President, Consortium of India Petroleum Dealers as saying.
    Meanwhile, earlier, media reports had said that petrol pump owners had threatened to take off every Sunday over demand for higher commission. In fact, petrol pump owners were expected to mark May 10 'No Purchase Day' as a protest.
    The government has not taken a decision on the issue in which the petrol pump owners are demanding higher dealer commission. State-run oil firms had assured higher dealer commission to petrol pump owners in January to stop their strike.
    "We had withdrawn the strike threat in January after oil marketing companies assured to revise dealer commission rates. But nothing happened in four months," a report in the Times of India quoted Ravi Shinde of the Petrol Dealers' Association as saying.

Government forgoes Rs 56,000 crore tax to SEZ in April-December FY17
  • The government has forgone Rs 56,418 crore tax during the first nine months of the last fiscal pertaining to special economic zones, Parliament was informed today.
    In the entire 2015-16, these zones had received duty exemptions worth Rs 52,216 crore, according to the data given by Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in a written reply to the Lok Sabha. She said exports from these zones stood at Rs 3.58 lakh crore during the April-December period of 2016-17, ended March 31. In the entire financial year 2015-16, the exports had amounted to Rs 4,67,337 crore.
    She said that as on date, 109 SEZs developers have sought cancellation of their projects in some states as the developers have found the projects economically unviable in the changed economic situation.
    As many as 28 zones were cancelled in Maharashtra, followed by 14 in Telengana and 10 in Tamil Nadu.
    SEZs enjoy certain tax benefits including 100 per cent income tax exemption on export income for the first five years and 50 per cent for the next five years.
    Replying to a separate question, she said the government continues to engage the US and the UK administration for better access of its IT professionals in these countries.
    "India has also taken up the matter on US visa fee hike in the dispute settlement body of the WTO," she said.
    To a separate question on meat exports, the minister said during April-January last fiscal, meat exports stood at Rs 22,074 crore.
    The exports had aggregated at Rs 27,610 crore in 2015-16.
    As per the current foreign trade policy, she said all export oriented meat processing establishments are required to be registered with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).
    As many as 81 companies or firms are engaged in meat processing and its exports in the country.

China first, India second in energy sector mergers in Asia-Pacific in 2016
  • The Asia-Pacific witnessed a record year in terms of mergers and acquisitions in the energy space, with 198 transactions valued at USD 77.6 billion in 2016 and the second-largest year-end total going to India.
    However, the Asia-Pacific energy M&A logged a 33 per cent drop in value terms year-on-year while the number of deals (196) were similar to 2015, the report titled Volatility and opportunity: Energy M&A in Asia-Pacific by law firm Eversheds in collaboration with deal tracking firm Mergermarket.
    Market-wise, China maintained its top spot in 2016, accounting for 36 per cent of deals and 31 per cent of value.
    India had the second-largest year-end totals, accounting for 18 per cent of deals and 22 per cent of value, followed by Australia with corresponding figures of 11 per cent and 20 per cent, the report added.
    The Indian government has established clean energy targets such as 175 gw of renewable energy, or 15 per cent of total capacity, by 2022, of which 100 gw is expected to come from solar power.
    "This has also helped provide a focus for a strong flow of renewable deals, continuing a trend that started in 2015 when the largest power sector deals were largely renewable deals," the report said.
    Meanwhile, renewable energy transactions accounted for over half of Asia-Pacific energy M&A deals in 2016.
    Regarding the current geo-political and economic trends shaping Asia-Pacific's traditional and alternative energy markets, Eversheds Partner (corporate) Charles Butcher said "small producers lacking financial resources have been hardest hit by the oil crisis".
    Butcher further said smaller cap deals are likely to continue in the short term as smaller players engage in distressed sales, merge to survive, or deleverage through asset divestment.
    "We expect that a number of energy majors will continue to exploit current assets while maintaining their balancesheets," Butcher added.

    Niti Aayog finalises 3-year action plan, working on 15-year vision document
    • Government think-tank Niti Aayog is at an advanced stage of finalising 3-year action plan and the 15 year vision document for the country, Parliament was informed on Monday.
      It will also unveil a 7-year strategy document. Government has decided to do away with the practice of preparing annual budgets on the basis of 5-year plans from the current fiscal. Financial year 2016-17 was the terminal fiscal of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).
      "The three year action plan along with 7 year strategy and 15 year vision document is at an advanced stage of finalisation," Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Planning Rao Inderjit Singh said in a written reply to Rajya Sabha.
      He said that in accordance with the National Development Agenda, the government had decided to formulate a Vision Document beyond March 31, 2017.
      The vision document will have a 15-year perspective, up to 2030; a 7-year strategy paper for achievement of the Agenda (from 2017-18 to 2023-24) and a 3-year Action Plan beyond March 31, 2017 for overall development of the country, he said.
      Singh said consultations with stakeholders have been done by Niti Aayog including eminent economists, business editors, agriculture experts in the science, technology as well as innovation sector, experts in defence and internal security matters and states and UTs.

    Soon, Provident Fund withdrawal claims can be settled through your smartphones
    • Nearly four crore members of retirement fund body EPFO will soon be able to settle their claims like EPF withdrawal through mobile application UMANG.
      "The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) is developing online claims settlement process by receiving application online," Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.
      The minister also said, "The application will be integrated with Unified Mobile App for new-age governance, (UMANG) App, to receive the claims online. However, the timeframe to roll out the same has not been finalised."
      The EPFO receives close to 1 crore applications manually for settlement of EPF withdrawals, pension fixation or getting group insurance benefit by the deceased.
      A senior official said over 110 regional offices of the EPFO out of 123 field formations have already been connected with the central server. The official explained that it is a technical requirement for connecting all regional offices with the central server for rolling out the facility.
      Earlier in February this year, EPFO Central Provident Fund Commissioner had said, "The process of connecting all field offices with a central server is going on. We may introduce the facility for online submission of all types of applications and claims like EPF withdrawal and pension settlement by May this year."
      The EPFO has an ambitious plan to settle the claims within a few hours after filing of the application. For instance, it has plans to settle the EPF withdrawal claim within three hours of the filing.
      As per the scheme, the EPFO is required to settle all claims within 20 days from filing of the application for settlement of pension or EPF withdrawal.
      The minister also told the House that the EPFO has engaged the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Pune, as its technical consultant to upgrade its technology and the body is installing latest equipment at its three central data centres in Delhi, Gurugram and Secunderabad.
      An official spoke of the requirement of seeding Aadhaar and bank accounts with the Universal (PF) Account Number (UAN) for settling EPFO claim online.
      In a separate reply to the House, the minister said that out of the 3.76 crore contributing members as on March 31, 2016, as many as 1.68 crore have linked their Aadhaar numbers with UAN.
      The EPFO has already made it mandatory to provide bank account numbers with IFSC codes and Aadhaar of subscribers.

    General Awareness

    National Children’s Film Festival held in Visakhapatnam

    • On April 7, 2017, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting M. Venkaiah Naidu inaugurated the three-day National Children’s Film Festival (NCFF) at VUDA Children’s Arena in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
      • This event has been organised by the Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) in association with the Government of Andhra Pradesh. It is an extension of 2ndEdition of NCFF that was held in Jaipur from 14th-16th November 2016.
      • Nikhileshwar, the child artist who played the role of young Baahubali in the movie ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’, attended the inaugural function as guest of honor.
      • Other dignitaries present at the inaugural function: Ganta Srinivasa Rao – Andhra Pradesh HRD Minister, Mukesh Khanna – Actor and Chairman of CFSI, K Haribabu – Member of Parliament from Visakhapatnam, Dr. Shravan Kumar – CEO of CFSI and M Srinivas Rao – Member of Parliament from Anakapalli.
      • Speaking at the inaugural function, Mr, Naidu mentioned that ‘children’s films and programs not only help in imparting knowledge but also help in creating awareness about social issues and various Govt. yojanas among children’.
      Main attractions during NCFF, Visakhapatnam:
      • The opening film of the NCFF is “Shanu – The Optimist”, directed by K.N.T. Sastry and produced by CFSI in 2016.
      • During the course of the festival, over 24 CFSI films will be shown across 12 screens (provided by Andhra Pradesh State Govt.) in the city. Over 40000 children are expected to watch these films.
      • Children will also be encouraged to participate in various workshops related to films.
      About National Children’s Film Festival (NCFF):
      In a bid to increase the audience base for children’s films in India and to encourage fresh talent, CFSI announced to organise National Children’s Film Festival (NCFF).
      • The first edition of NCFF was held in year 2014 in Delhi. In 2016 2nd Edition was held in Jaipur with a central theme of ‘Make In India’. NCFF focuses on films that are produced in India or are shot by Indians.
      Quick Facts about Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI):
      Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) was founded by India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It is an autonomous organisation functioning under Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It is involved in production of Children’s films and television programs in different Indian languages with an objective to provide healthy and wholesome entertainment to Indian children.
      • Formation Year: 1955
      • Headquarters: Mumbai
      • Current Chairperson: Mukesh Khanna
      • Current CEO: Shravan Kumar
      • Tag Line: Promoting Every Child’s Right to Entertainment

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