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Current Affairs - 23 April 2017

General Affairs 

Narendra Modi government to Supreme Court: Exploring diplomatic channels to bring back Kohinoor diamond
  • The Narendra Modi government on Friday told the Supreme Court that it is exploring diplomatic channels to bring back the 200 million dollars' (Rs 1,293 crore) worth Kohinoor diamond back from the United Kingdom. But this significantly marked a major U turn on the part of the government regarding its stand on getting the treasured gem back.
    The diamond is set in a crown which is on display in the Tower of London. In 2013, during a trip to India, UK Prime Minister David Cameron had ruled out sending the diamond back to India, declaring that he does not believe in "returnism."
    On April 19, 2016, the last date of hearing of the PIL seeking a direction to the Centre to bring back Kohinoor, the Centre had said it was a gift given to the British by Ranjit Singh's successor Prince Dalip Singh as some "compensation" after the 1849 Sikh wars and cannot be brought back.
    Till then, the stand of successive central governments was that the gem was "stolen or forcibly taken away" from India and will take steps to bring it back. Centre's affidavit said Kohinoor is India's property but international conventions as well as the laws restrain it from making a rightful claim for its return from Britain.
    The government however said it is devising ways and means to see if the diamond could be brought back based on any agreement with the UK.
    Stating there was no concrete evidence to show that the diamond was validly gifted to Queen Victoria, an affidavit filed by the Centre also said the government was mindful of the Indian public sentiment attached with the gem.
    However, the government said it did not have many legal options and would have to resort to diplomatic relations to seek its retrieval from UK.
    The Supreme Court disposed off the PIL saying the court cannot do much in this issue and the government was anyways taking diplomatic measures to get it back.
    "See diplomatic measures cannot be under any supervision and can a court in India pass any order asking any country to return something? And all the more at a time when the government in its counter affidavit says they are taking steps to bring it back?" a bench led by Chief Justice J S Khehar bench asked lawyers for the petitioners in two PILs.
    "The Centre's affidavit clearly says though it is not possible to make them return the diamond we will continue to explore it. Yes they say it is not possible but through diplomatic channels it may be possible. What kind of petitions you are filing?" CJI Khehar asked.

PM Modi catches officers checking social media sites, bans mobile phones from meetings
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday that mobile phones were banned from his meetings because he often found officers checking social media sites in the midst of official discussions.
    "I see these days that district-level officers are so busy, that most of their time goes into it (social media). I have stopped the entry (of mobile phones) in my meetings as they (officers) would take them out and start (checking out social media sites)," he said.
    "The social media should be used for the welfare of the people and not for self-praise", he told bureaucrats at a meeting here to mark Civil Services Day.
    The world was moving from e-governance to mobile-governance and the best equipment needed to be used for the welfare of people, he added.
    "If I am informing the people about dates of polio vaccination through social media, saying that they should come out on a particular date for the vaccination, then it (social media) is helpful.
    But if during vaccination-related work, I am praising my own photograph on Facebook, then it puts a question mark (on the work done by civil servants)," he said.
    Modi, whose speech was often met with cheers and laughter, said that he was not a part of the bureaucracy because he did not get the chance to attend coaching. The reference was to tuition classes which many would-be bureaucrats join to be able to qualify for the civil services.
    If he had, he said, he would have become a bureaucrat of the rank of a director after serving the people for 16 years. "It is my good luck that I am in public service for the past 16 years...I did not get the chance to attend coaching", he said.
    As his audience applauded, he turned to Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary in the PMO -who was sitting on the dais - and asked him what rank he would have reached after 16 years in service.
    "Deputy Secretary? Director," he said, after consulting Misra. "So I should have come in the director category." Modi added that there had been several committees on administrative reforms.
    "But all those who made all these reports, they must not have read them completely," he said.

    "I feel that those working in this system have enormous experience. What you (bureaucrats) have, the kind of suggestions you have, no reform can be bigger than that. But we don't value this (experience)," the Prime Minister said.

The Gujarat railway station where Modi sold tea will get Rs 8 crore makeover
  • The Vadnagar railway station in Gujarat where Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to sell tea during his childhood, is to get a facelift worth Rs 8 crore, Union minister Manoj Sinha said here today.
    "(A sum of) Rs 8 crore has been sanctioned for the development of Vadnagar railway station in Mehsana district," the minister of state for railways told reporters.
    Sinha was in Sachana village today to inaugurate the Inland Container Depot (ICD), built by the Continental Warehousing Corporation (Nhava Seva) Ltd.
    Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi had often mentioned that he used to sell tea during his childhood at the Vadnagar railway station along with his father.
    Vadnagar town is also the birthplace of Modi.
    Giving further details about the project, Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) of Ahmedabad division, Dinesh Kumar said the entire project of developing Vadnagar and adjoining places in Mehsana district would cost over Rs 100 crore.
    "The development of Vadnagar railway station is one of the components of the Rs 100 crore project to develop Vadnagar, Modhera and Patan as tourist destinations. As of now, the Ministry of Tourism has given Rs 8 crore to the state Tourism Department to develop the railway station," Kumar said.
    He said railways has already undertaken a project for converting the meter gauge line on the Vadnagar-Mehasana route into the broad gauge line.
    Meanwhile, Sinha said his ministry is considering to implement a time table for all the goods trains in line with the passenger trains.
    "At present, goods trains do not run as per any time table. Thus, we have initiated a pilot project wherein three to four such trains are plying as per their time table. After analysing the outcome of the project, we are considering to implement this system for all the goods trains," the minister said.

MCD election 2017: All about Delhi civic polls; how BJP, AAP battle it out with Congress, Swaraj India
  • Votes will be cast tomorrow for the three municipal corporations of Delhi. The elections are taking place close on the heels of the Rajouri Assembly by-poll, in which the Aam Aadmi Party had to bite dust as its candidate forfeited security deposit.
    The BJP has been ruling the civic bodies of Delhi for past ten years and is looking for the third consecutive term. The Congress, on the other hand, is upbeat after it came second with improved vote share in the Rajouri by-poll.
    The Aam Aadmi Party looks at a cross-road in the MCD election 2017. The Delhi civic elections are being seen as a popularity test for the Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
    There is another factor this MCD election - the Swaraj Abhiyan. Psephologist-turned-politician Yogendra Yadav's the Swaraj Abhiyan has been working almost silently for the Delhi civic polls. The Swaraj Abhiyan's political wing the Swaraj India is in the fray for the Delhi civic election.
    The Swaraj India is hoping to do in MCD election 2017 what AAP did in Delhi Assembly election in 2015.
    1. The Delhi civic elections will take place in 272 wards spread across three municipal corporations.
    2. The three civic bodies going to polls are the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC).
    3. The NDMC and SDMC have 104 seats each in their House while EDMC has a strength of 64.
    4. The counting of votes for all the municipal corporations of the Delhi will take place on April 26.
    5. Both, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Swaraj India are in the contention for MCD election for the first time.
    6. Taking escalating cost of contesting polls, the Election Commission increased the expenditure limit in the MCD Election 2017 for a candidate from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 5.75 lakh.
    7. There are 1,32,10,206 eligible voters for the municipal corporation elections. They will be electing 272 councillors of Delhi.
    8. Of the total voters over 73 lakh are male and nearly 59 lakh are female voters. There are 793 voters of the other category.
    9. The MCDs have seats over 40 per cent seats reserved for women candidates. The North MCD has 42 seats reserved for women candidates while the South MCD has 45 seats earmarked for women in their House. The East MCD has 27 seats reserved for women candidates.
    10. This the first MCD election that the Delhi voters will be able to use the 'None of the Above' (NOTA) option.

On Earth Day, following these Google Doodle tips can help you to conserve the planet
  • To celebrate Earth Day, Google doodle team has created a slideshow of animated images from a children's book.
    The illustrations narrate the story of a fox dreaming about polluted oceans and the adverse impact of climate change. Upon waking, he and his friends find ways to protect and nurture the environment.
    Around 47 years ago, industrial development had led to the increased use of insecticide and rising levels of smog leading to a decline in biodiversity.
    So on 22 April 1970, people took to the streets to protest against the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development, which is now marked as the Earth Day.
    On this day, over 1 billion people across 192 countries take part in this global event- sign petitions, plant trees and clean up their cities, town and roads. 

Business Affairs 

World Bank approves $375 million loan for India's 1st waterway project
  • The World Bank has approved a loan of USD 375 million (around Rs 2,421 crore) for the ambitious inland waterways project between Haldia in West Bengal and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
    An official statement said that the World Bank has approved the loan of USD 375 million for capacity augmentation of National Waterway-1 (River Ganga) under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP).
    The loan amount is about 45 per cent of the estimated project cost of Rs 5,369 crore.
    The 1,390 kilometre waterway project of the shipping ministry would enable commercial navigation of vessels with capacity of 1,500-2,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT).
    The waterway will pass through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, serving major cities of Allahabad, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Bhagalpur, Patna, Howrah, Haldia and Kolkata besides the industrial hinterland including several industries located in the Ganga basin.
    "The rail and road corridors in this region are heavily saturated. Hence, the development of NW-1 would provide an alternative, viable, economical, efficient and eco-friendly mode of transport," the statement said.
    NW-1 will have three multi-modal terminals, one each at Varanasi, Sahibganj (Jharkhand), and Haldia.
    There will be two inter-modal terminals at Kalughat and Ghazipur, a navigation lock at Farakka and five Roll on-Roll off (Ro-Ro) terminals.
    Ferry services will be developed at Varanasi, Patna, Bhagalpur, Munger, Kolkata and Haldia besides vessel repair and maintenance facilities.
    The project will enable the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) to set-up River Information Service (RIS) System on NW -1 for the first time in India.

Tata case: Cyrus Mistry moves NCLAT against rejection of plea
  • Ousted Tata Sons Chairman Cyrus Mistry has moved appellate tribunal NCLAT against the National Company Law Tribunal, which had rejected his plea over maintainability of its petition against the group.
    The petition is likely to come for hearing next week before the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal bench, headed by NCLAT Chairman Justice S J Mukhopadhaya.
    The tribunal had held last month that the plea was not maintainable, because the petitioner firms did not meet one of the eligibility criteria prescribed by the Companies Act.
    "Mistry's companies have failed to satisfy us (NCLT) on the minimum 10 per cent shareholding eligibility criteria under the Companies Act and hence, these petitions are not maintainable," said a division bench of B S V Prakash Kumar (member-judicial) and V Nallasenapathy (member-technical).
    On April 17, National Company Law Tribunal had dismissed a petition filed by two firms belonging to Cyrus Mistry's family, seeking waiver of an eligibility condition for moving the forum against Tata Sons.
    The Companies Act mandates that a petitioner should hold at least one-tenth of the issued share capital of a company or represent 10 per cent of the total number of members to file cases alleging mismanagement and oppression of minority shareholders.
    The two firms -- Cyrus Investment Pvt Ltd and Sterling Investments Pvt Ltd had sought to challenge Mistry's ouster from Tata Sons last year and alleged that there was mismanagement and oppression of minority shareholders.
    They had urged the NCLT to use its discretion and waive an eligibility condition for filing such a petition.
    The firms contended that under the Act the tribunal can waive a requirement that petitioner should hold at least one- tenth of 'issued share capital' of the company, or represent at least one-tenth of the company's minority shareholders.
    Tata Sons had argued that if preference capital was also considered, the petitioner firms held only 2.17 per cent of the total issued share capital of Tata Sons.
    Mistry was removed as Chairman of Tata Sons, the holding firm of Tata Group, one of the country's largest conglomerates, last October.

Wipro lay-offs not surprising, more IT firms could rein in hiring: Here's why
  • The information technology (IT) industry employed 3.9 million in 2016/17, clocking an annual headcount growth of 5 per cent, as per the industry lobby Nasscom. The figure was 6 per cent in the previous fiscal. The low, single digit employee growth rates signals the industry's continued focus on productivity and automation. Indeed, IT companies are also bracing up for curbs on worker visa norms by various countries like the US and Australia. Now in this backdrop, the news of lay-offs at India's third largest IT services exporter Wipro, does not comes as a surprise.     
    The problems of the IT industry could intensify as global advisory firm McKinsey & Company in a recent report pointed out that nearly half of the workforce in the IT services firms will be irrelevant over the next 3-4 years. The firm also believes that the bigger challenge ahead for the industry will be to retrain 50-60 per cent of the workforce due to significant shift in technologies.
    Here's a reality check.
    According to various media reports, Wipro has decided to lay-off around 500 employees as a part of the appraisal process, which the company has termed as a part of plan to align its workforce with business objectives. The company has not filed its fourth quarter results which are awaited next week. However, according to the latest data available for Q3FY17, the company's total headcount stood at 1, 79,129, a net addition of 4,891 over the previous quarter. The net addition of headcount in the second quarter of 2016/17 was 375 compared to Q1FY17. The company saw negative growth in its IT services revenues on a sequential basis over the last two quarters -- -0.7 per cent and -0.8 per cent respectively.
    At Infosys, growth in consolidated revenues in dollar terms decelerated to 7.4 per cent in FY17 from 9.1 per cent in FY16. The company's operating margins have been declining since 2014/15 from 25.9 per cent to 24.7 per cent currently. It made a net employee addition of just 6,320 employees in FY17 to reach a total headcount of 200,364, compared to a significant net employee addition of 17,857 and 15,782 in the previous two fiscals.
    In the case of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the current headcount stands at 3, 87,223 and the employee addition over the last two fiscals has been relatively stable.  It made a net employee addition of 33,380 in FY17 marginally lower than 34,187 employees in FY16. On financial parameters, the company's operating margins have declined from 26.5 per cent to 25.7 per cent in the last two fiscals. Its revenues (in dollar terms) too, saw some moderations to 6.2 per cent from 7.1 per cent, year-on-year, over the period.
    The macro picture does suggest that IT companies will rein in hiring and may even consider layoffs to boost margins. It may well be the new normal.

    USFDA issues warning letter to Divis Labs for Vizag unit
    • Drug firm Divis Laboratories today said the US health regulator has issued a warning letter to the company for its Vishakhapatnam facility.
      The United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has issued warning letter for the company's Unit-II at Vishakhapatnam, Divis Laboratories said in a BSE filing.
      The company along with external consultants and subject matter experts is working to address the concerns of USFDA and is making all efforts to fully meet the compliance requirements, it added.
      The company, however, did not provide details of the warning letter.
      Divis Laboratories has responded to USFDA inspection observations with an appropriate remediation process to overcome the deficiencies observed, the company said.
      "As part of our commitments, we have also provided periodic updates to the USFDA," it added.
      In the import alert issued earlier, the regulator had exempted several products manufactured at the unit II in Visakhapatnam, Divis Laboratories said.
      The regulator had earlier exempted 10 products, including Levetiracetam, Gabapentin, Lamotrigine, Capecitabine, Naproxen sodium and BOC core succinate, from the import alert.
      "We will continue to supply these active ingredients to meet its obligations to our customers", it added.
      The company will respond to this warning letter with a detailed plan within the stipulated time, Divis Laboratories said.
      Earlier on March 22, Divis Laboratories had said in a regulatory filing that the regulator had issued import alert for products made at Visakhapatnam unit citing violation of manufacturing norms and refusal of inspection.

    Indian techies, IT firms fret as Trump orders US visa review
    • For Grishma, an Indian software designer, President Donald Trump's review of the visa programme for bringing highly skilled workers into the United States comes at a bad time.
      Fresh from gaining a master's degree in Europe, and with an offer of employment from a well-known US design firm, she was well on her way to fulfilling the ambition of many young Indian IT workers - a dream job in America.
      But as she waits in the H-1B visa queue for the green light, she is caught in a bind.
      "It's a weird time to be applying, with all the scrutiny," said Grishma, who gave only her first name for fear of jeopardising her chances of getting a visa.
      The United States has already suspended the "expedited processing option" for applicants, under which she may have received a visa in weeks.
      More broadly, uncertainty over the review announced this week has unsettled Grishma and many others like her.
      She will have to wait until at least around August to learn her fate, but having accepted the US job offer she is not in a position to apply for positions elsewhere, including in Europe.
      "It's pretty debilitating," Grishma told Reuters. "I'd like to start work to mitigate the financial damage."
      Trump's decision was not a huge surprise, given his election campaign pledge to put American jobs first.
      But the executive order he signed, though vague in many areas, has prompted thousands of foreign workers already in the United States or applying for visas to work there to re-think their plans. Companies who send them also face huge uncertainty.
      The concerns are particularly acute in India, where IT firms like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd are top beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme, using it to send computer engineers to service clients in the United States, their largest overseas market.
      Experts say Trump's order to review visa processes is aimed at firms like TCS, Infosys and Wipro, which from 2005-14 snagged around 86,000 H-1B visas, roughly equivalent to the number of H-1B visas the United States issues in total each year.
      Two industry sources said Infosys, India's No. 2 information technology (IT) services company, is applying for just under 1,000 H-1B visas this year, which one of the sources said was down from 6,500 applications in 2016 and some 9,000 in 2015.
      It was not clear whether the sharp reduction in 2017 was in direct response to Trump's presidency, although the company has said for some time it wanted to cut dependence on "fly-in" staff.
      TCS, Infosys and Wipro said they would not share data on the number of H-1B visas they had applied for this year.
      With fewer visas going to Infosys, more might become available for smaller IT companies and big US tech companies, like Facebook and Microsoft Corp, that typically send in fewer H-1B applications each year.
      US-based immigration lawyer Murali Bashyam, managing partner of Bashyam Spiro LLP which advises and works with small to mid-sized Indian IT firms, said clients had been in contact seeking clarity, while the number of visa applicants had fallen.
      "I think the reason for that is they get the sense that it's going to get so much tougher to comply with all of the changes ... that it might not be worth their money," he said.
      "There is a fear that radical immigration changes are coming, and if those radical immigration changes come then it could completely change the way IT staffing companies do business."
      Bashyam said the number of people on H-1B visas already working in the United States who were considering returning to their home country had risen.
      An engineer working at Cisco, who has been in the United States since 2011, said that three months ago he would not have considered returning to India.
      But the review of the visa system, and any rule change that revoked the right for his wife to work in the United States on a dependent visa, could force him to change his mind.
      "If that happens, then I would definitely be interested in going back to India. Even though I'm secure, I don't want to be in a situation where my wife cannot work," said the engineer, who declined to be named.
      "Those who have heavily invested here, who've bought houses, property and are still on visas, are afraid."
      According to Bashyam, some Indians on H-1B visas were cancelling plans to return home to visit their families in case they had problems getting back into the United States.
      "With everything that's going on, travelling outside the US is the biggest fear for a lot of the H-1B workers working in the IT staffing industry," he said.
      And the uncertainty is not limited to IT.
      Trump's campaign rhetoric around tighter visa rules has led some Indian students considering studying abroad to look beyond the United States, which typically draws in over 100,000 Indian students annually.
      One Canadian official said the number of student visa applications for certain courses in Canada had spiked over 250 percent since Trump's election win in November.
      Akshay Baliga, a management consultant with a H-1B visa that is valid until 2018, said he was not considering returning to the United States for work any time soon.
      "As a professional I'm looking eastward," said Baliga, now based in India but who earlier studied and lived for years in America.

    General Awareness

    Geo-tagging of MGNREGA assets reach the one crore landmark

    • Under rural employment program (MGNREGA) Ministry of Rural Development achieved a milestone by successfully geotagging 1 crore assets. It started in 2006-07 and each year a huge number of rural assets are created under MGNREGA. All the assets created under the program will be geotagged.
      Key Points:
      • A MoU was signed on June 24, 2016 for geo tagging of assets under each village panchayats.
      • Under this agreement, a Gram Rozgar Sahayak or junior engineer will take a photo of an asset created by beneficiaries of the scheme and through a mobile app created by ISRO upload the photo on the Bhuvan web portal run by ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre.
      • When the photo is uploaded on the mobile app, the location and time will get encrypted and there will be an option to add more information according to a few parameters.
      • Assets that are related to water works will get prime importance.
      • According to the ministry of rural development around 3 million assets are created annually across the country under the rural jobs scheme.
      • These assets include a range from plantations, rural infrastructure, water harvesting structures, flood control measures such as check dams.
      • Ministry of Rural development tied up with National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), ISRO and National Informatics Centre to geo tag MGNREGA assets.
      • Training manuals were developed in consultation with NRSC.
      • National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD&PR) was enlisted for training more than 2.75 lakh personnel.
      • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), offers at least 100 days of manual work every year to one member of every rural household.
      • Geotagging exercise started from September 1, 2016 after completing the training programme in the last week of August, 2016.
      • The exercise will ultimately lead to more transparency and ultimately ensure accountability at ground level.
      • To keep track of assets and create transparency under the rural job guarantee scheme, the ministry of rural development and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) signed an agreement on geo-tagging the assets.
      • Huge amount of funds are now flowing through the 14th Finance Commission to gram panchayats, more and more quality assets will be added through MGNREGA in rural areas that will lead to poverty reduction.

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