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Current Affairs - 16 April 2017

General Affairs 

Maharashtra Government To Give Free Seeds To Tenant Farmers, Reassures On MSP
  • Addressing the issue of agricultural distress widespread in the state, the government of Maharashtra is planning to supply free seeds and pesticides free of cost to small and marginal farmers to keep cost effective farming alive in the state.

    Chandrakant Patil, Revenue Minister and a-second term member of Maharashtra legislative assembly, talked about this today to news agency PTI.

    "The idea is to keep the production cost or input cost minimal so that farmers will not feel the heat when the market rates are down," he said.

    Mr Patil, himself son of a dockyard worker in Mumbai, expressed concern over a large number of farmers currently living under debt.

    The minister suggested the state government would also include farm labourers into the fold of National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MNERGA) in the next couple of months.

    "This will bring down almost all costs of farmers required for foodgrains and vegetable cultivation. The state has observed that the sudden rise in supply leads to commodity prices crashing and farmers are incurring losses," Mr Patil quoted as saying.

    "If we keep the input cost at almost zero, despite the price crash, the farmers will not suffer heavily. Their losses will be limited," he said.

    These two decisions, if put together will provide benefits to farmers, Mr Patil said adding that the government is also coming with a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for foodgrains, which will ensure that farmers will get certain minimum amount for their produce.

    Also taking into the account farmers getting get certain minimum amount for their production, Mr Patil said that the government is considering coming up with Minimum Support Prize (MSP) for foodgrains. As has been pointed out in several reports by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) or more commonly known as Swaminathan committee, constituted by then UPA government in November 2004.

    "During the demand period, farmers can sell their produce as per the market rates, which are generally higher than the MSP. In such a situation, they will not only earn more, but can even book profit and repay loan," he added.

    Meanwhile, he said, in the 'lean period' the MSP will come as a relief and farmers will earn certain amount. He added that their losses will either be minimal or they will earn something to repay the loan amount.

    Mr Patil informed that although only small and marginal farmers are included in the current plan, the number of such farmers account for 70 per cent of the total 1.30 crore farmers in the state.

'Factually Incorrect': Manohar Parrikar On Reports On Why He Quit Defence Ministry
  • Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has dismissed reports that he quit as the Defence Minister due to pressure of key issues, like Kashmir. "Reports attributed to me by some news agency regarding my speech at Ambedkar Jayanti is factually incorrect," Mr Parrikar tweeted today.

    Mr Parrikar's office too released a statement saying his remarks on return to Goa after quitting as Defence Minister were in no way linked to the pressure of some key issues like Kashmir.

    "The speech in local language of chief minister (Parrikar) regarding Kashmir issue was in no way connected to his becoming chief minister of Goa which was under the
    necessity of situation due to coalition partners' demand," the chief minister's office (CMO) said in a statement.

    "In the speech Honorable Chief Minister had indicated that Kashmir being a sensitive issue needs to be handled through long-term policy frame work," it added.

    Mr Parrikar, who was sworn in as the Goa chief minister for the fourth time last month, had spoken in Konkani while addressing a gathering in Panaji on Friday on the occasion of the 126th birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar.

    Talking about Kashmir issue at the event, Mr Parrikar had said "It is not easy to resolve the Kashmir issue. There is a need for a long-term policy to resolve the Kashmir issue."

    Later, in the same address, he had also said that New Delhi wasn't a place he got habituated to. "Delhi is not my place. It is not the place I am habituated to," Mr Parrikar said.

With Eye On East, PM Modi Arrives For BJP National Executive In Odisha
  • Emboldened by its impressive performance during the panchayat elections, the BJP's national executive began this afternoon in the Odisha capital Bhubaneswar. This is the party's biggest, and loudest push to edge out its one-time ally, the Biju Janata Dal, and capture power in the state which goes to polls in 2019, along with the Lok Sabha General elections.

    On Friday, BJP president Amit Shah received a rousing welcome that included two garlands made of lotuses, the party symbol. One had 21 flowers to symbolise the parliamentary seats in Odisha, the other had 147, the number of assembly seats. Today, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's turn, the man whose credibility, confidence and faith among the people, in the words of Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, "is at Himalayan top".

    Soon after landing at the airport, PM Modi drove straight to Raj Bhavan in a convoy of Range Rover SUVs, at times leaning out of the vehicle to wave at cheering supporters who had lined up along the route to welcome him. On occasions, he also got off the vehicle to walk up to them. At the venue, he was received by BJP president Amit Shah.

    "I am witnessing so much vigour in BJP's workers of Odisha. This meeting can be proven as a milestone in the upcoming election of Odisha," said Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh.

    The two-day national executive attended by the BJP's 350 top leaders will have a string of speeches over the next two days and will conclude tomorrow. It will be an opportunity to exchange ideas on the party's strategy for the 2019 General Elections.  But the biggest message from the executive might have already been delivered when the BJP decided to hold the meeting in the eastern state. It will also be an opportunity to showcase the Chief Ministers of 13 BJP-ruled states, particularly the saffron-robed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

    Odisha, where the BJP had won just one of the 21 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, is at the heart of the BJP's "Look-East" policy. The first sign that this was within the realm of possibility came in February when the party won 300 seats in the panchayat elections as against the ruling BJD's 400 seats. The main opposition party, the Congress was left with less than 100 seats.

India Cancels Maritime Talks With Pakistan Over Kulbhushan Jadhav's Death Sentence
  • India has called off maritime security dialogue with Pakistan, scheduled for early next week, amid tensions over death sentence being awarded to Kulbhushan Jadhav.

    A delegation led by Pakistan's Maritime Security Agency (MSA) was to visit New Delhi April 16-19 to discuss issues related to fishermen and search and rescue operations.

    News agency Press Trust of India quoted its sources in the Coast Guard as saying the Ministry of Defence has not given clearance for the delegation's visit.

    The development comes amid tension between the two countries over Mr Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer, being awarded death sentence by a Pakistani military court.

    The death sentence to Mr Jadhav, 46, was confirmed by army chief General Bajwa after the Field General Court Martial found him guilty of "espionage and sabotage activities" in Pakistan.

    Pakistan claims its security forces had arrested Mr Jadhav from the restive Balochistan province on March 3 last year after he reportedly entered from Iran. It also claimed that he was "a serving officer in the Indian Navy." 

    The Pakistan Army had also released a "confessional video" of Mr Jadhav after his arrest. However, India denied Pakistan's contention and maintained that Mr Jadhav was kidnapped by the Pakistan authorities.

    New Delhi had yesterday criticised the Islamabad for not sharing Mr Jadhav's location and details of his condition and said that the international norm to provide consular access was not followed. India and Pakistan have a bilateral agreement on consular access.

    Meanwhile, there was no official confirmation on reports of India asking its high commission in Pakistan to go slow on visas to Pakistan nationals in wake of the development. 

8 Coaches Of Meerut-Lucknow Rajya Rani Express Derail Near Rampur In UP, Probe Ordered
  • Eight coaches of Meerut-Lucknow Rajya Rani Express derailed near Rampur in Uttar Pradesh today leaving at least two passengers injured, railway officials said. There was no casualty in the incident, they said.

    The accident happened between Mundapandey and Rampur railway stations, Northern railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma said, adding that two people have been injured in the incident.

    A compensation of Rs. 50,000 has been ordered to those injured, news agency Press Trust of India reported.

    Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an enquiry to ascertain causes behind the accident. He said strict action will be taken against those found guilty.

    Moradabad Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) has reached the spot to oversee the rescue and relief operations. A medical team has also reached, Mr Sharma said.

Business Affairs 

Consolidation in the domestic market drove the deal activity: Report
  • The overall deal activity in Q1 2017 witnessed an unprecedented three-fold year-on-year (y-o-y) increase in value terms, according to a report by Grant Thornton India.
    It was solely driven by the Vodafone-Idea mega merger, which contributed more than 80 per cent of the total values. Without this mega deal, which is estimated to be a USD 27 billion, the deal activity would have recorded 39 per cent decline in values.
    "The Indian deal activity was dominated by big-ticket mergers and acquisition this quarter. The quarter witnessed one of the largest deals in the country with Vodafone and Idea's merger, which is estimated at around USD 27 billion. The quarter recorded USD 33.7 billion across 300 deals marking a sharp increase in value as compared to USD10.9 billion in Q1 2016 while volumes declined by 27 per cent," says Prashant Mehra  - Partner at Grant Thornton India LLP.  
    M&A transactions were alone valued at USD 31.5 billion demonstrating a four-fold growth. "Primary driver for M&A growth was consolidation in the domestic market with deal values growing by 10x on the back of healthy capital markets and easing credit conditions. This enabled companies strike big ticket deals either to slash debt or consolidate market share. Cross-border deal activity is yet to pick up pace in 2017 as compared to previous quarters due to looming uncertainties in the global economy," adds Mehra.
    Consolidation in the telecom sector due to increasing competition drove deal activity in Q1 2017, with the sector contributing over 87 per cent of total deal value. The quarter witnessed three mega consolidations led by Vodafone India's merger with Idea Cellular followed by Bharti Airtel's acquisition of Tikona Digital Networks Pvt Ltd's 4G business for USD 244 million and that of Telenor (India) Communications Pvt Ltd for USD 235 million.
    Start-ups continued to drive M&A deal volumes contributing to 22 per cent of total deal volumes. Apart from consolidation in the telecom sector, big-ticket M&A deals materialised in sectors like pharma and energy. Overall, transaction values were driven by more than 14 big ticket deals (over USD 100 million) which contributed to over 96 per cent of the M&A values.
    In contrast, absence of big ticket investments in Q1 2017 in PE space drove investment values to the lowest in the last 11 quarters. This quarter recorded only four investments valued at and above USD 100 million, as compared to seven deals in Q1 2016.
    Private investment activity started on a tepid note in Q1 2017 with private equity deal-making remaining weak as venture capital firms turned cautious about backing start-ups in the first three months, recording over USD 2.1 billion which is 30 per cent fall compared to Q1 2016.
    "Interestingly, in an environment with reducing investments from larger VC and PE players, we witnessed an increasing number of smaller angel and seed-stage investors backing start-ups, as compared to levels seen in the previous quarter. In contrast, companies looking at larger investments may struggle to find investors in the coming quarters," points out Mehra.
    M&A activity in 2017 is expected to stay positive owing to the sustained interest in the Indian economy. "A focus on consolidation and expansion is set to be the major theme that will drive the deal activity, especially in healthcare, telecom, e-commerce and infrastructure sectors. In financial services sector, the possibility of new business models emerging post demonetisation, continued fund raising by NBFCs and a consolidation push by micro finance firms will play a big role," says Mehra

Hackers release files indicating NSA monitored global bank transfers
  • Hackers released documents and files on Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks.
    The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cyber security consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems.
    The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity.
    Also published were many programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.
    In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft, maker of Windows, said it had not been warned by any part of the U.S. government that such files existed or had been stolen.
    "Other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers," the company said.
    The absence of warning is significant because the NSA knew for months about the Shadow Brokers breach, officials previously told Reuters. Under a White House process established by former President Barack Obama's staff, companies were usually warned about dangerous flaws.
    Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released on Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank.
    "The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank," Shook said.
    The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day. Belgium-based SWIFT downplayed the risk of attacks employing the code released by hackers on Friday.
    SWIFT said it regularly releases security updates and instructs client banks on how to handle known threats.
    "We mandate that all customers apply the security updates within specified times," SWIFT said in a statement.
    SWIFT said it had no evidence that the main SWIFT network had ever been accessed without authorization.
    It was possible that the local messaging systems of some SWIFT client banks had been breached, SWIFT said in a statement, which did not specifically mention the NSA.
    When cyberthieves robbed the Bangladesh Bank last year, they compromised that bank's local SWIFT network to order money transfers from its account at the New York Federal Reserve.
    The documents released by the Shadow Brokers on Friday indicate that the NSA may have accessed the SWIFT network through service bureaus. SWIFT service bureaus are companies that provide an access point to the SWIFT system for the network's smaller clients and may send or receive messages regarding money transfers on their behalf.
    "If you hack the service bureau, it means that you also have access to all of their clients, all of the banks," said Matt Suiche, founder of the United Arab Emirates-based cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, who has studied the Shadow Broker releases and believes the group has access to NSA files.
    The documents posted by the Shadow Brokers include Excel files listing computers on a service bureau network, user names, passwords and other data, Suiche said.
    "That's information you can only get if you compromise the system," he said.
    Cris Thomas, a prominent security researcher with the cybersecurity firm Tenable, said the documents and files released by the Shadow Brokers show "the NSA has been able to compromise SWIFT banking systems, presumably as a way to monitor, if not disrupt, financial transactions to terrorists groups".  
    Since the early 1990s, interrupting the flow of money from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant Islamic groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries has been a major objective of U.S. and allied intelligence agencies.
    Mustafa Al-Bassam, a computer science researcher at University College London, said on Twitter that the Shadow Brokers documents show that the "NSA hacked a bunch of banks, oil and investment companies in Palestine, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, more."
    He added that NSA "completely hacked" EastNets, one of two SWIFT service bureaus named in the documents that were released by the Shadow Brokers.
    Reuters could not independently confirm that EastNets had been hacked.
    EastNets, based in Dubai, denied it had been hacked in a statement, calling the assertion "totally false and unfounded."
    EastNets ran a "complete check of its servers and found no hacker compromise or any vulnerabilities," according to a statement from EastNets' chief executive and founder, Hazem Mulhim.
    In 2013, documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said the NSA had been able to monitor SWIFT messages.
    The agency monitored the system to spot payments intended to finance crimes, according to the documents released by Snowden.
    Reuters could not confirm whether the documents released Friday by the Shadow Brokers, if authentic, were related to NSA monitoring of SWIFT transfers since 2013.
    Some of the documents released by the Shadow Brokers were dated 2013, but others were not dated.
    The documents released by the hackers did not clearly indicate whether the NSA had actually used all the techniques cited for monitoring SWIFT messages.

Now, restaurants can't ask you to pay service charges anymore
  • In what could be called a step to put an end to confusion, the government today announced that restaurants can't ask their customers to pay service charge anymore.
    The move comes months after it said in January that customers could choose not to pay service charges as it was not a mandatory.
    However, it had triggered turbulence with heated spats breaking out between patrons and employees at pubs and eateries. Many experts felt that the government should clear the confusion by doing away with the service charge in order to avoid conflicts between hoteliers and customers.
    Earlier in January, the Department of Consumer Affairs had asked state governments to advise hotels or restaurants to display information on their premises that 'service charges' are discretionary.
    It said: "A number of complaints from consumers have been received that hotels and restaurants are following the practice of charging 'service charge' in the range of 5-20 per cent, in lieu of tips, which a consumer is forced to pay irrespective of the kind of service provided to him."
    The Ministry had sought clarification from the Hotel Association of India, which replied that "service charge is completely discretionary and should a customer be dissatisfied with the dining experience, he/she can have it waived off. Therefore, it is deemed to be accepted voluntarily."
    Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had also expressed his displeasure over hotels' practice of charging 5-20 per cent service charge.
    He said: "Our Department's view is that imposing service charge is an unfair trade practice and consumers need not pay. There is no definition of 'service charge' in law but taking service charge without discretion of consumers is an unfair trade practice."
    Paswan also said that consumers should be informed about service charge in the menu card itself and not in the bill. He also argued that there is no need to take service charge from consumers as price of each food item quoted in the menu card is arrived at after factoring in all expenses.
    In fact, hotels and restaurants should not charge even room service charge additionally, Paswan had said.

    SpiceJet partners with HSBC to offer UPI payment option
    • SpiceJet today said it has partnered with HSBC India to provide a platform for passengers to make payments through mobile phones.
      The no-frills airline has launched a Unified Payment Interface (UPI) as a payment option on its website.
      "The integration will allow SpiceJet passengers to use their unique UPI identities i.e. virtual payment address to pay for all bookings made on the SpiceJet website," it said in a release.
      This payment solution, implemented by HSBC Bank on the SpiceJet network, will allow passengers to pay online using mobile handsets.
      "With UPI adoption witnessing significant growth in the quarter ending March 2017, we believe that SpiceJet can use our offering to drive sales," Divyesh Dalal, MD and Head Global Liquidity and Cash Management, HSBC India said.
      SpiceJet has a fleet of 49 planes and operates an average of 340 daily flights.

    Appointment of co-chairman to create factions at Infosys Board: Proxy advisory firm
    • The appointment of a co-chairman by software company Infosys adds another layer of leadership at the board level and is likely to create "factions", proxy advisory firm IiAS has said.
      Claiming that Infosys was fighting the "wrong battle", IiAS said that while Ravi Venkatesan's appointment as co-chairman may be construed as signs of Infosys' board listening to feedback, in doing so it has "courted another controversy".
      "IiAS believes that Infosys is now fighting the wrong battle: instead of focusing on its performance, it is now spending more time focusing internally and quelling perceptions," it said in a statement.
      The views come at a time when Infosys has drawn flak from founders, including NR Narayana Murthy, who have flagged alleged corporate governance lapses in the company and criticised the hike in compensation packages of certain key executives.
      In a move widely being interpreted as an attempt to placate the founders, Infosys yesterday elevated Independent Director Venkatesan as co-chairman.
      "...Infosys' board seems to have caved in and added another layer of leadership at the board level. While this may have been done to appease Narayana Murthy, IiAS believes this decision was unnecessary," it said.
      IiAS pointed out that the position of co-chairman is rarely seen in corporate India and "having more than one person leading the board is more likely to create factions".
      The appointment of a co-chairman also changes the power balance at the board, it added.
      "Functioning could be eased if the Board clearly articulates the roles and responsibilities of the Co-Chairs," it said.
      On Infosys' decision to return Rs. 13,000 crore to shareholders via dividends and/or buybacks during the current year, it said while the move was well-placed, it came "after much goading" and is "too little, too late".
      While there is no denying that Infosys' transparency can improve from their current levels, IiAS believes the company's board needs to be far more externally focussed.
      The company needs to re-energise its business model to embrace newer technologies, improve profitability, and address an increasing uncertainty in the external environment, it added.
      "Infosys' board is focusing on the wrong problem - it is fighting for credibility against Narayana Murthy's stature, rather than fighting the more immediate market-driven battles," it added.

    General Awareness

    2-billion people drinking contaminated water says WHO GLASS report

    • The World Health Organization has published the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) 2017 report that nearly 2 billion people worldwide using Contaminated Water.
      Key Points:
      • The WHO revealed that drinking and using contaminated water thousands of people die within a year.
      • UN agency says we should give more focus on ensuring clean water and sanitation.
      • In developing and under developed countries 38% of health care facilities lack improved water source. 19% do not have proper sanitation and 35% lack water and shop for hand washing.
      • By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water stressed areas.
      • The diseases which spread due to contaminated water are Cholera, Dysentery, Typhoid and Polio.
      • Contaminated Water is generating because of the inadequate management of Urban, Industrial and agricultural waste water.
      • Thousands of millions of people is severely contaminated and chemically polluted.
      • Due to contaminated drinking water 5, 00,000 diarrhoeal happened over a year.
      • Diarrhoea is the most spreading and common disease which happens through contaminated water and over 240 million people are affected due to this disease.
      • In many unhygienic areas insects that live in contaminated water carry and transmit disease such as dengue, fever which affect many people’s life.
      • Now, over the past 3 years countries on an average raised their annual budgets for Water, Sanitation and hygiene by 4.9%.
      • According to report many countries approximately more than 80% of countries do not have prescribed set targets for increasing access to safe water and sanitation.
      • The head of UN water and International Labour Organization Guy Ryder mentioned that if there will be sufficient increment in water and sanitation then it can give best results and substantial benefits for human health and development.
      • WHO is working closely with UNICEF in several areas where there is a scarcity of water and water borne problems
      About WHO
      The WHO is a specialized agency of United Nations that is concerned with International Public health.
      • Established- 7 April 1948
      • HQ- Geneva Switzerland
      • WHO head- Margaret Chan

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