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Current Affairs - 2 April 2017

General Affairs 

PM Narendra Modi To Inaugurate Jammu And Kashmir Tunnel Tomorrow
  • Amid high alert and multi-tiered security, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate India's longest road tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway tomorrow, making it operational for traffic.

    Multi-tier security has been put in place ahead of the Prime Minister's visit amid alert along the border and high degree of vigilance in Jammu and Kashmir.

    "It is a matter of great pride for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that this great tunnel is being dedicated to the nation by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi - the most popular PM. It is dedicated to the nation in keeping with his call for a new India," Union Minister of State in PMO, Jitendra Singh told reporters.

    The Prime Minister will also address a public rally at Battal Ballian in Udhampur district after inaugurating the tunnel.

    The tunnel will save fuel worth nearly Rs. 99 crores a year. "Rs. 27 lakh worth of fuel is likely to be saved per day," Mr Singh said.

    The tunnel will reduce the travel time between the two state capitals of Jammu and Srinagar by two hours. The distance from Chenani and Nashri will now be 10.9 kms (between two ends of the tunnel), instead of the existing 41 kms.

    Union Minister said this tunnel is a game changer.

    "It is a revolution itself. It is a revolution to be watched and studied. It is a case study itself. It is a wonderful creation," he added.

    "The connectivity through this tunnel will decrease the time of journey by two hours. It is an alternative all weather route. It is an alternative to the highway which is closed at the time of snow and rains. It will boost trade and increase revenue in the state. It will also help boost tourism," Mr Singh added.

    The security setup includes elaborate deployments, area domination, checkpoints and alertness in border areas and vigilance at vital installations in the region by various security agencies, a police officer said.

    Director General of Police (DGP) S P Vaid has expressed satisfaction over security arrangements put in place by security agencies for Modi's visit.

    A high alert in border areas and Udhampur-Jammu belt and round the clock patrolling has been intensified, he said, adding that high degree of vigilance has been put in place at vital installations including airports, railway stations and highways with continuous surveillance.

    He said the Batal Ballian area and around the venue of the Prime Minister's rally was sealed and the area has been fully sanitised.

    BJP is expecting a huge turnout of people from various parts of the state for PM Modi's rally.

    Security drills were carried out by police and other security wings today. Three helipads have also been sanitised and checked by security teams headed by the SPG.

Scrap EVMs, Return To Ballot Papers: Congress tells Election Commission
  •  Crying foul over efficacy of EVMs in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress today knocked at the doors of the Election Commission and demanded scrapping its use in upcoming elections while reverting to old ballot paper system.

    Citing the incident of Bhind where VVPAT machines dispensed slips only with BJP symbol, a delegation of Congress leaders met Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and two other Election Commissioners seeking a thorough probe and strict action against officials involved.

    The delegation comprised Digivijaya Singh, Jytiraditya Scindia, Mohan Prakash, K C Mittal and Vivek Tankha, who told the EC to discontinue use of EVMs.

    "All parties should be taken into confidence for the credibility and viability of use of EVMs or to revert back to the old system of ballot papers," the Congress delegation said.

    "In the face of revelations about tampering of EVMs, it is necessary that the entire process be re-examined thoroughly and all agencies and persons involved in maintenance, operation and data feedings of machines be examined before use of EVMs in further elections," the party said in a memorandum.

    Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash said, "In a democracy, time and again there have been doubts created on EVMs. We have demanded that elections be held on ballot paper because every section has created doubts on EVMs. If there are doubts on votes cast, then democracy is weakened."

    Another party general secretary Digvijay Singh said, "The next elections, be it in Gujarat or elsewhere, should be held with ballot papers and the use of EVMs be stopped."

    He also questioned the "compulsion" of "using EVMs whose chip was imported".

    He argued that if the Bank of Bangladesh's account can be hacked and 80 million Dollars be stolen, besides 30 million dollars from the Russian bank, "then why can't EVMs be tampered".

    "When elections all over the world, including in the developed countries, are taking place with ballot paper, why should we have problems in doing so," Mr Singh said, adding he had doubts on the efficacy of EVMs right from day one.

    Mr Scindia said, "We hope that the EC will seriously act on our complaint and EC has assured us that it will seriously look into complaints raised by us."

    Terming this as a "serious issue", Mr Mittal said, "This is something substantially wrong. If this is found in EVMs, then it is better to discontinue its use. The entire credibility of electoral process is in jeopardy."

    Mr Singh added, "From (LK Advani) Advani to Mayawati to (Arvind) Kejriwal, I stand with them on this."
    Notably, BJP veteran Lal Krishna Advani had raised doubts about possibility of EVMs malfunctioning after the 2009 elections when UPA emerged victorious second time in a row.

ATMs, Credit, Debit Cards Set To Disappear: Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant
  • With India embracing applications of technologies at an accelerated pace, digital transactions will be done through mobile wallets and biometric modes and credit and debit cards as also ATMs were set to disappear, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant has said.

    "Technology will be a key driver of India's growth," Mr Kant said while launching the Trade and Investment Facilitation Services (TIFS) of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) in New Delhi yesterday.

    "Physical banking in India is almost dead and it is adopting pervasive technologies with such an accelerated pace that in next three to four years, the digital transactions would move through mobile wallet and biometric modes," he said. "Credit cards, debit cards and ATMs will disappear."

    Mr Kant said that India was growing 7.6 per cent annually in the midst of a very barren economic landscape across the world.

    "The population in America and Europe will keep getting older while that of India will keep getting younger," he said.

    In terms of ease of doing business, he said that in the last year "we scrapped 1200 laws".

    Stating that India was larger than 24 European countries, Mr Kant said that states should appear as champions of growth.

    Mr Kant also said India would see a lot of urbanisation in the times to come and technology would play a key role in this.

Terrorists Open Fire On Army Convoy In Srinagar, 2 Soldiers Injured
  • At least two soldiers were injured after terrorists today opened fire on an army convoy on the outskirts of Srinagar city this afternoon.

    The gunmen attacked an army convoy near a hospital when it was passing the Parimpora Panthachowk bypass road in Bemina area. The troops retaliated the fire but attackers managed to escape. They have reportedly taken shelter in the neighbourhood.

    The area has been cordoned off and search operation was immediately launched by the security forces to track down the attackers.

    No casualties have been reported in the attack, a police official said.

    Minutes before the attack, gunshots were heard in the commercial hub of Lal Chowk in Srinagar triggering panic. But it turned out to be situation of security paranoia. Cops had fired few rounds in the air to stop a mentally-challenged person wearing a mask who created panic among people.

    As soon as the man entered a hotel, security forces mistook him for a suicide attacker. Troops stationed nearby opened fire as Jammu and Kashmir is on high alert after threat of a possible attack in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. PM Modi is inaugurating the country's longest road tunnel along Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

    The incident created panic in the busy market place and people ran for safety.

    But when hotel staff informed police that the masked man was not a terrorist, police entered the hotel and captured him.  

    Soon after he was arrested, there were massive clashes in the area. Crowds threw stones at security forces as police resorted to intense teargas shelling and used chilli grenades to disperse the mob.

Election Commission Bans Exit Polls For Lok Sabha Bypolls In Kashmir
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Friday banned exit polls between April 9 and April 16 when by-elections are held for two Lok Sabha seats of Srinagar and Anantnag in Kashmir.

    "In connection with the bye-elections to Srinagar and Anantnag Parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, the ECI has prohibited exit polls between 7 AM on April 9 and 6.30 PM on April 12," a notification issued by the commission said.

    "In exercise of the powers under Sub-Section (1) of Section 126 A of the Representation of People's Act 1951, ECI has notified the period between 7 AM on April 9 and 6.30 PM on April 12 during which conducting any exit poll and publishing or publicising by means of the print or electronic media or dissemination in any other manner whatsoever, the result of any exit poll shall be prohibited," the notification stated.

    Displaying any election matter including results of any opinion poll or any other poll survey, in any electronic media, would be prohibited during the period of 48 hours ending with the hours fixed for conclusion of poll for bye-elections, the notification added.

Business Affairs 

Finance Bill gets presidential assent, takes effect from today
  • President Pranab Mukherjee has given his assent to the Finance Bill 2017 to give effect to provisions like bar on cash transactions above Rs 2 lakh and compulsory quoting of Aadhaar for filing tax returns.
    "The President was kind enough to give his assent to the Finance Bill before he left for official visit to Assam yesterday," Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia told PTI here.
    With this, the provisions of the Finance Bill come into effect from today, he said.
    This is the first-time ever the annual Budget together with taxation proposals have come into effect from the first day of the financial year.
    Scrapping a colonial-era tradition of presenting the Budget at the end of February, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had for the first time in the history of independent India presented the annual accounts on February 1.
    The legislative process of getting approvals for demands for grants or spending, general Budget as well as taxation proposals contained in the Finance Bill 2017 were all completed by March 30. President's assent was taken the very next day.
    This will give the government more time to implement welfare spending programmes and taxation plans.
    Previously, when the Budget was presented at the end of February, the three-stage Parliament approval process used to get completed some time in mid-May, weeks ahead of onset of monsoon rains. This meant government departments would start spending only from August-end or September after the monsoon ends.
    Besides advancing the presentation date, the Budget scrapped the Plan and non-Plan distinction and merged the Railway budget with it, ending a nearly century-long practice.
    Advancement of the Budget will give government departments more leeway to spend as well as allow companies time to adapt to business and taxation plans.
    Adhia said all taxation and other proposals in the Finance Bill 2017 have come into effect from today.
    Among the most important is limiting cash transaction to Rs 2 lakh, at par with the current requirement of quoting permanent account number (PAN) for cash spending.
    Penalty for violating this is a fine equivalent to the amount of transaction, he said. The fine will be payable by the person or the establishment receiving the cash.
    Also, Aadhaar number is now a must while applying for PAN as well as filing of tax returns.
    The Finance Bill also provides that a person holding PAN as on July 1, 2017, has to intimate his Aadhaar number to the authorities in a manner which will be notified by the government.
    It also amends the Companies Act of 2013 to make donations by companies to electoral trusts only through account payee cheque, bank draft or electronic transfer.
    The language has also been tweaked to provide for every company disclosing in its profit and loss account the total amount contributed to such trusts.
    The move is in sync with Jaitley's Budget proposal of introducing bearer electoral bonds, which could be purchased by a donor using cheques from a scheduled bank and encashed only through a notified bank account of a political party within the limited duration of such instrument.
    Adhia said rules for electoral bonds will be notified within this month.
    The President's assent to the Finance Bill also means that as many as seven appellate tribunals will now be dissolved and their work taken over by other existing ones.
    The tribunals scrapped include the Competition Appellate Tribunal, whose functions will be taken by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
    The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal and the Cyber Appellate Tribunal will be replaced and their functions would be taken over by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
    Also, the Copyright Board will be dissolved and its functions will go to the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.
    The National Highways Tribunal will be replaced and its functions will be taken over by the Airport Appellate Tribunal while the job of the Employees Provident Fund Appellate Tribunal will be handled by the Industrial Tribunal.

India's external debt declines to USD 456 billion in Dec'16
  • India's total external debt declined to USD 456 billion at the end of December from end-March 2016, says a Finance Ministry report.
    "India's external debt stock fell by USD 29.0 billion (6.0 per cent) to USD 456.1 billion, at end-December 2016 over the level at end-March 2016," an official statement said.
    The decline in external debt during the period was due to the fall in long-term external debt, particularly the fall in NRI deposits reflecting the redemption of FCNR (B) deposits and decline in commercial borrowings with fall in both commercial bank loans and securitized borrowings, it said.
    On a sequential basis, it said, total external debt at end-December 2016 declined by USD 28.1 billion (5.8 per cent) from the end-September 2016 level.
    The maturity pattern of India's external debt indicates dominance of long-term borrowings. At end-December 2016, long-term external debt accounted for 81.6 per cent of India s total external debt, while the remaining 18.4 per cent was short-term debt.
    Government (Sovereign) external debt stood at USD 90.7 billion at end-December 2015 while non-Government debt amounted to USD 389.5 billion, it said.
    While long-term debt at USD 372.2 billion, declined by USD 29.4 billion (7.3 per cent) at end-December 2016 over the level at end-March 2016, short-term debt increased marginally by 0.5 per cent to USD 83.8 billion.
    The valuation gain (appreciation of the US dollar against the Indian rupee and most other major currencies) was USD 7.3 billion.
    This implies that excluding the valuation effect, the decrease in external debt would has been lower at USD 21.7 billion at end-December over end-March 2016.
    The shares of Government (Sovereign) and non-Government debt in the total external debt were 19.6 per cent and 80.4 per cent respectively, at end-December 2016, it said.
    "The share of US dollar denominated debt was 54.7 per cent of the total external debt at end-December 2016, followed by the Indian rupee (31.1 per cent), SDR (5.9 per cent), Japanese yen (4.4 per cent), Euro (2.7 per cent), Pound Sterling (0.7 per cent) and Others (0.5 per cent)," it said.
    Many key external debt indicators of India show improvement at end-December 2016 over end-March 2016, it said.
    Besides, total external debt falling by 6.0 per cent during this period, the foreign exchange cover for external debt increased to 78.7 per cent from 74.3 per cent and the ratio of concessional debt to total external debt increased to 9.2 per cent from 9.0 per cent, it said.
    Though, the share of short-term debt (original maturity) in total debt increased to 18.4 per cent from 17.2 per cent during this period due to rise in trade related credits, the share of short term debt (residual maturity) in total external debt fell to 41.4 per cent from 42.6 per cent, it said.

Unhappy with Tehran, India to cut imports of Iranian oil
  • Indian state refiners will cut oil imports from Iran in 2017-18 by a fifth, as New Delhi takes a more assertive stance over an impasse on a giant gas field that it wants awarded to an Indian consortium, sources familiar with the matter said.
    India, Iran's biggest oil buyer after China, was among a handful of countries that continued to deal with the Persian Gulf nation despite Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme.
    However, previously close ties have been strained since the lifting of some sanctions last year as Iran adopts a bolder approach in trying to get the best deal for its oil and gas.
    Unhappy with Tehran, India's oil ministry has asked state refiners to cut imports of Iranian oil.
    "We are cutting gradually, and we will cut more if there is no progress in the matter of the award of Farzad B gas field to our company," one of the Indian sources said.
    Indian refiners told a National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) representative about their plans to cut oil imports by a fifth to 190,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 240,000 bpd, officials present at the meeting said.
    Indian Oil Corp and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Corp will reduce imports by 20,000 bpd each to about 80,000 bpd. Bharat Petroleum Corp and Hindustan Petroleum Corp will together cut imports by about 10,000 bpd to roughly 30,000 bpd, they said.
    In turn, NIOC threatened to cut the discount it offers to Indian buyers on freight from 80 percent to about 60 percent, the officials added.
    No comment was available from the Indian companies or NIOC.
    Cutting imports from Iran amid an OPEC-led supply cut aimed at propping up the market exposes India's refiners to the risk of struggling to find reasonably priced alternatives.
    "We expect that the market is currently undersupplied and that the draws in inventory are coming," U.S. investment bank Jefferies said in a note to clients this week, adding it expected crude prices of around $60 a barrel by the fourth quarter.
    Despite this, Indian oil industrials said they saw no major impact from cutting Iranian imports, mainly due to their specific requirements.
    "Their main requirement is lighter oil, and light oil will remain in oversupply despite OPEC cuts, as OPEC cuts are mainly medium heavy sour," said Ehsan ul Haq of KBC Energy Economics.
    Prices of light crude have fallen recently, thanks largely to soaring output in the United States, which is not involved in the production cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
    From April last year to February 2017, India imported 542,400 bpd from Iran, compared to 225,522 bpd a year earlier. Average oil volumes supplied by Iran over this period were the highest on record.
    At the heart of the spat is that a group of Indian oil companies headed by Oil and Natural Gas Corp wants to develop Iran's Farzad B gas field.
    Iran has yet to hand out a concession that would allow its development.
    ONGC Videsh has submitted a $3 billion development plan to Iranian authorities to develop the offshore field estimated to hold reserves of 12.5 trillion cubic feet, with a lifetime of 30 years.
    Under sanctions, Iran was banned from the global financial system, preventing the field's development.
    India was one of a few countries still supplying Iran with goods, devising a complex payment mechanism to help Tehran access non-sanctioned items including medicines.
    As new options have opened up for Tehran since the lifting of sanctions, Iran may now be awaiting better bids for Farzad B.
    "They (Tehran) are playing hardball ... We don't see any forward movement on that (Farzad B)... So we have reduced (crude) imports," the Indian official said.

    India to grow at 7.7 per cent in 2018; emerging markets face newer challenges: Arun Jaitley
    • Emerging markets face newer challenges in the form of inward looking policies of protectionism and increased geopolitical tension, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said today as he pegged India's GDP growth at 7.7 per cent in 2018.
      Speaking at the second annual meeting of the New Development Bank (NDB) here, Jaitley said global growth is moving upwards and is expected to improve further in 2017-18.
      "Indian economy is expected to grow at 7.2 per cent in 2017 and at the rate of 7.7 per cent in 2018," he said.
      Jaitley said emerging market economies (EMEs) face newer challenges in the form of inward looking policies of protectionism of some economies, global financial condition, policies of the United States and increased geopolitical tension.
      He said India has sought $2 billion loans for various projects from the NDB, which is set up by the emerging nations India, China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
      "India has huge unmet infrastructure funding needs...$646 billion is required in next 5 years (for financing infrastructure)," Jaitley said.
      He said growth in emerging and developing countries is picking up and news from economies of BRICS countries is "encouraging".
      "I hope that NDB will emerge as a development bank and help in funding of emerging economies," Jaitley added.

      Nation-wide crackdown on shell firms begins. ED searches at 100 places in 16 states
      • The Enforcement Directorate (ED) today launched a country-wide operation and conducted searches at 100 locations in sixteen states as part of its crackdown on shell companies.
        Officials said multiple teams of the ED today visited these locations and raided the premises of about 300 shell firms in prominent places like Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Patna, Ranchi, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru among others.
        They said the action is being carried out under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) to check instances of money laundering and illegal foreign exchange transactions.
        The action is part of the mandate given to the ED under a Special Task Force (STF) that was recently created by the government on the directions of the Prime Ministers Office (PMO).
        The agency has recently attached assets worth crores of such firms in the last over a week's time.
        Shell companies are defined as those firms which are set up by nominal paid-up capital, high reserves and surplus on account of receipt of high share premium, investment in unlisted companies, no dividend income, high cash in hand, private companies as majority shareholders, low turnover and operating income, nominal expenses, nominal statutory payments and stock in trade and minimum fixed asset.

      General Awareness

      First Recycled Rocket launched and retrieved after successful mission by SpaceX

      • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) successfully launched it Falcon 9 from space launch complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida and retrieved it on March 30, 2017. The rocket was used to launch SES communications satellite into space.
        Falcon 9 rocket used a booster that had previously flown cargo to the astronauts living at the International Space Station which makes it as the first ever recycled rocket sent by SpaceX. The booster is reused from the rocket which flown to space in the month of March, 2016.
        The rocket landed on the bull’s eye after it successfully placed the communications satellite in outer space.
        The plan to launch a reused rocket has been prepared for the past 15 years and for this reusability effort has cost a sum of USD 1 billion for the company.
        Plans for the Future
        • SpaceX aims to launch up to six reused boosters in 2017, two of them is ready to fly the super sized Falcon Heavy weight rocket within its is familiar uncharted territory.
        • The company has also planned to fly two paying customers to the moon in 2018 and also building a capsule to launch NASA astronauts.
        • It is also designing the Red Dragon, a robotic spacecraft intended to launch to Mars in 2020.
        About SpaceX
        • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is an Aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company founded on May 6, 2002.
        • Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company was founded by Elon Musk who is also a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
        • The company launched its first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit named Falcon 1 Flight 4 launched on September 28, 2008.
        • The products prepared are Falcon launch vehicles and Dragon capsules.
        About booster
        Boosters are the most expensive part of the rocket which gives the thrust to attain the required speed while takeoff. They are typically discarded following liftoff, sinking into the ocean or sea nearby.

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