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Current Affairs - 24 April 2017

General Affairs 

K Chandrasekhar Rao For Linking MGNREGA With Agricultural Sector
  • Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao today said there is an urgent need to link MGNREGA scheme with agricultural activities as the sector faces huge shortage of labour.

    Speaking at 3rd Governing Council Meeting of the NITI Aayog in Delhi, Mr Rao said the suggestion, if implemented, will not only help farmers in timely agricultural operations, but also help ensure employment to the weaker sections of the society.

    "There is a hue and cry among the farmers due to the scarcity of labour force in agricultural operations. In order to make Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme more useful and productive to the agricultural operations, there is an urgent need to dovetail MGNREGA to agricultural operations, by including it under the permitted activities under MGNREGA.

    "It is suggested that 50 per cent of the unskilled wages may be paid under MGNREGA and 50 per cent by the farmers concerned. This may be extended to those states who opt to avail this," said the Chief Minister.

    He said in order to double farmers' income in five years, concrete steps such as dividing the entire country into crop colonies for specific crops, based on agro-climatic regions, should be done immediately.

    The state government is taking several steps to address the agrarian distress and to revive the farm sector in the state and also to revamp the rural economy by reviving the traditional activities such as, sheep rearing, fisheries dairy, Mr Rao added.

PM Modi Appeals To States To 'Look After' Students From Jammu And Kashmir
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today made a strong appeal to states asking them to help integrate the young men and woman from Kashmir into the mainstream. The comment -- made at the Governing Council meet of Niti Aayog, followed a similar appeal by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

    Recently, some Kashmiri students were in thrashed in Rajasthan's Mewar and a hoarding in Meerut had asked Kashmiris to leave Uttar Pradesh. Amid these events and the fresh outbreak of unrest in the state following the April 9 parliamentary by-elections in Srinagar, Ms Mufti had said other states should "take care" of the students from Kashmir, so when they return, they can act as ambassadors of that state.

    Seconding her remarks, PM Modi suggested that states could also organise events in Jammu and Kashmir in which young people would like to participate. He urged the states to reach out to students from Jammu and Kashmir from time to time.  

    On April 9, around 200 incidents of violence were reported from Kashmir Valley following a poll boycott call by separatists. Eight men had died and around 100 securitymen were injured in the violence.  In view of the violence and the state's appeal, the Election Commission had postponed the by-elections in Anantnag, in which Ms Mufti's brother Tassaduq Mufti is a candidate.

    Days later, widespread clashes between students and the police took place in universities in Kashmir. Around 70 students were injured in the clashes that witnessed teenagers in school uniform and women students in white headscarves joining the protesters.

    Last year, the five-month protests following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani had been fueled largely by young students. They formed a chunk of the nearly 1000 people who were injured in the action by security forces.

    As Army chief Bipin Rawat had sounded a warning against Kashmiris who raised anti-India slogans and aided separatists, Ms Mufti had asked parents to control and counsel teenagers.

Tamil Nadu Farmers Suspend Delhi Strike After Chief Minister's Promise
  • Farmers from Tamil Nadu have called off their strike in Delhi for a month over a drought relief package after an assurance by Chief Minister E Palaniswami today. Mr Palaniswami had met the farmers who have been protesting at Delhi's Jantar Mantar for the last six weeks. The chief minister assured the farmers that their demands will be met and urged them to call off their protest. 

    The move came after Mr Palaniswami met Prime Minister Narendra Modi today and highlighted the farmers' issue. He had also discussed the issue with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The farmers' union said if their demands are not met by May 25, they will resume their strike.

    Mr Palaniswami, who arrived in the national capital yesterday, attended the NITI Aayog meeting along with chief ministers of other states.

    The protesting farmers have been demanding a Rs. 40,000-crore drought relief package, farm loan waiver and setting up of the Cauvery Management Board by the centre. Over the last 39 days, they have shaved their heads, halved their moustaches, held mice and snakes in their mouths, conducted mock funerals, flogged themselves and even carried skulls of other farmers who had committed suicide due to debt pressure. 

    Earlier this month, dozens of protesters blocked all six lanes of Chennai's arterial Kathipaara flyover by tying an iron chain to the poles on either side to express solidarity with the farmers protesting in Delhi. 

    The Madras High Court, too, had directed state government to expand its farm loan waiver scheme to include farmers who own land over five acres. However, there is no relief for those who have borrowed from nationalised banks. The state had sought Rs. 40,000 crore from the centre, which sanctioned only Rs. 4,000 crore.

Mega Defence Deals Likely During Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Visit To Israel
  • A raft of mega defence deals including procurement of an air defence system for the Indian Navy are likely to be sealed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's upcoming visit to Israel which will be first by an Indian Prime Minister to the Jewish nation.

    Ahead of the visit, which is likely to take place in July, Israeli envoy Daniel Carmon said it will be a "big" visit, reflecting the depth of cooperation between the two countries in a range of key areas.

    The much-awaited deal for Barak-8 air defence missile systems for the navy and procurement of Spike anti-tank missiles for the Indian Army are expected to be firmed up during PM Modi's visit to Tel Aviv.

    "India, Israel relations are big enough. The visit, when it takes place, will be a very very important visit. It will be one of the most important visits that Israel has witnessed in many many years," Israeli Ambassador Daniel Carmon told PTI in an interview.

    PM Modi's visit coincides with the establishment of 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. A number of other defence deals are also likely to be discussed.

    Asked about specific defence deals, the envoy only said the relationship has gone beyond buying and selling and that the two countries are now focussing majorly on joint research and development.

    "Israel has very good relations with India and the relationship has various facets including defence," he said. 

    People familiar with defence relations say the two multi-billion dollar acquisition deals are likely to be finalised during the PM Modi's trip. India is the largest buyer of Israel's military hardware and the latter has been supplying various weapon systems, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles over the last few years but the transactions have largely remained behind the curtains.

    In February, India had cleared a Rs. 17,000 crore deal for jointly developing with Israel a medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) for the army. A formal announcement on the deal is likely to take place during PM Modi's maiden trip.

    Mr Carmon said ties between the two countries have expanded manifold in the last few years in diverse sectors and both countries are resolved to deepen the engagement further.

    "We are really talking about things which are very very deep. Much deeper than the deliverables," he said.

Yogi Adityanath Calls For Biometric Attendance System In All UP Offices Upto Block Level
  • Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has instructed that a biometric attendance system be put in place in offices up to the block level to ensure all government employees reach work on time. His instructions came during a meeting with officials of the rural development department late on Saturday night. "Efforts should be made to ensure that a biometric system of attendance is installed up to the block level. Apart from this, a board be put up at every village panchayat, which will have information about contact details of the village pradhan and details of the ongoing works," Mr Adityanath said in an official statement.

    The Chief Minister said that the targets of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana should be achieved.

    All the works pertaining to registration, uploading of photographs and approval of housing units for 5.73 lakh families eligible under this scheme must be completed at the earliest.

    "The Centre will be requested to incorporate eligible families, which have been left out," he said.

    Emphasising on transparency in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MNREGS), Adityanath said that active workers should be linked with Aadhaar-based payment system.

    The Chief Minister also sought information about the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, World Bank-aided 'Neer Nirmal' and Rajya Grameen Payjal Yojana among other schemes.

    "Apart from Bundelkhand, piped water supply schemes should be implemented in other parts of the state. To address the problems of drinking water scarcity in Bundelkhand, repair works pertaining to hand-pumps along with re-boring should be done," Mr Adityanath said.

    He also said that 160 piped water supply schemes in 31 districts should be completed to ensure water supply.

    "Installation of new hand-pumps and re-boring of existing hand-pumps under the quota of MLAs and MLCs should be completed after taking their consent," he said.

    He also directed that Samagra Gram Vikas Department be merged with Rural Development department.

Business Affairs 

Jaitley Takes Up H-1B Visa Concerns With US Treasury Secretary
  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has raised the issue of restrictions on H-1B visa with his US counterpart Steven Mnuchin as India fears the curb would impact the movement of Indian IT professionals to America.

    During his meeting with the US Treasury Secretary, Jaitley also highlighted the contribution Indian companies and professionals are making to the US economy. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its 'abuse' and ensure that the visas are given to the 'most-skilled or highest paid' petitioners, a decision that would
    impact India's $150 billion IT industry.

    The Indian IT industry has expressed serious concerns over this as these visas are mainly used by domestic IT professionals for short-term work in America. Earlier, the finance minister raised the visa issue with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. 

    An official statement said: "Jaitley raised the issue of H-1B visas for skilled professionals from India."
    Issues related to terror funding were also discussed in the meeting and the US Treasury Secretary appreciated the role of India in this regard, including Indo-US cooperation in Financial Action Task Force.

    These matters were discussed yesterday on the sidelines of the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF. During the discussions, the statement said Jaitley pointed out India's ambitious reform agenda which is creating new opportunities towards a deeper economic engagement between
    both the countries in the years ahead.

    "Critical economic issues like Indo-US investment initiative, infrastructure collaboration and NIIF (National Investment and Infrastructure Fund), collaboration with the US for Smart Cities Development were deliberated upon during the meeting," it added.

    The Indian minister also held bilateral meetings with the finance ministers of Sweden, France and Bangladesh. 

    The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields. Indian technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year for their US operations.

    The US market accounts for about 60 per cent of the revenue of the Indian IT industry.

    Reforming the H-1B visa system was one of the major election promises of Trump. As per several US reports, a majority of the H-1B visas every year are grabbed by Indian IT professionals. India accounts for the highest pool of qualified IT professionals, whose services go a long way in making American companies globally competitive. 

Finance Ministry Seeks IT Professionals To Plug Leaks In Its Monitoring Systems
  • The finance ministry has decided to hire 120 senior IT professionals to develop big data architecture for monitoring public expenditure and plugging leakages. The professionals will be hired for providing leadership role in the areas of advanced data techniques, develop BizTalk (to facilitate interface between numerous platforms), web designing, technical support to end users, and updating technical documentation, among others.

    The move aims at strengthening the government's flagship Public Financial Management System (PFMS), a web based application for online financial management information. It tracks released funds and real time reporting of expenditure through treasury and bank interface.

    The hiring, on contractual basis, seeks to bring transparency in public expenditure, speed up implementation of welfare schemes and plug leakages. In Budget 2017-18, government has earmarked Rs. 300 crore for revamp of the PFMS with the overall objective of tracking the usage of funds till it reaches the last beneficiary. 

    The PFMS will link financial networks of the central and state governments and give real time reporting of expenditure at all levels of programme implementation. The Department of Expenditure in the ministry has invited bids from agencies for recruitment of the professionals, initially for two years. It is said that at least 90 per cent of all Pension Accounting office (PAOs) and 20 per cent of all Drawing & Disbursing Officers (DDOs) are to be covered for receipt and payment functions under PFMS by the end of next fiscal.

Tata Motors Pilots Electric Bus In Shimla Ahead Of Tourist Rush
  • Tata Motors started commercial test drive of its first batch of electric buses under the Marcopolo brand in Shimla over the weekend. "Last Friday we successfully piloted our first
    electric bus in Shimla. It was carried out jointly with the Himachal Road Transport Corporation and the state transport department.

    "The 9-meter bus, with a seating capacity of 31 people, was piloted on the Parwanu-Kalka route with the round-trip distance of 160 km with no charging en-route," A K Jindal, head of engineering, commercial vehicles, Tata Motors told Press Trust of India.

    Since the first test was a success, the second level of commercial pilot will happen soon in Shimla city, he added. Jindal said the vehicle is a success is clear from the fact that the Himachal state utility has decided to increase its order for these buses to 75 from the original order of 25. Asked when will the commercial production begin, he said as soon as the firm orders are in they can start production. 

    The manufacturing will happen at its Dharward plant for chassis and the body will be built at the  Automobile Corporation of Goa facility, a joint venture between the Tatas and the Goa government. The country's largest bus-maker has priced the 9-meter e-bus at around Rs. 1.6 crore, while the 12-meter one will cost about Rs. 2 crore.

    These are the rates that its nearest rival Ashok Leyland also charges. Leyland had unveiled its e-buses, called the Circuit series, last October, becoming the first in the country to indigenously make such vehicles. The company reportedly piloted the bus in the Rohtang Pass area recently.

    Asked about the battery, Jindal said they are Samsung cells sourced from China but the design is fully indigenous. Whether the company is in talks with any other state, he said soon these buses will be tested in Delhi, the Manali-Rohtang Pass and also Shimla.

    Meanwhile, Jindal said the company has won orders from the MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) for supplying 25 hybrid buses, the supply of which will begin soon. These are also made at Dharward and Goa, and are priced at Rs. 2 crore.

    Hydribd will also be tested in Delhi, Nagpur, and Chandigrah, he said, adding these are on Tata Starbus label, he said. Leyland claims its e-bus runs 150km on a single charge. The company, at the time of its unveiling, said it plans to sell close to 50 e-buses in fiscal 2017 and around 200 units in fiscal 2018.

    Of the Rs. 500 crore capital expenditure lined up for the bus business, the Chennai-based company plans to spend 10 per cent of it on electric buses.

    India's GDP To Expand At 7.5% In 2017-18, Says Arun Jaitley
    • Indian economy will grow at a clip of 7.5 per cent this fiscal, up from 7.1 per cent in the previous year, and remains resilient with low inflation, fiscal prudence and low deficit, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said.

      Participating in G-20 finance ministers' and central bank governors' meeting, he said emerging economies have become increasingly important in driving global growth, accounting for more than 75 per cent of global expansion.

      Among emerging economies, "India has been a major driver of global economic growth with an expected growth of 7.5 per cent for 2017-18 against 7.1 per cent in 2016-17", an official statement quoted him as saying.

      India's growth, he said, remains resilient with low inflation, fiscal prudence and low current account deficit (CAD), talking about robust structural reform measures.

      Addressing the meeting yesterday, Jaitley said India is on course to introduce the goods and services tax (GST) from July this year.

      GST, he said, will eliminate the multiplicity of taxes and make India a single common market.

      As per IMF projections, India's medium-term growth is poised to go above 8 per cent, Jaitley said.

      About demonetisation, the finance minister said the move will push the Indian economy to a less-cash trajectory,

      increase tax compliance and reduce threats from counterfeit currency, which acts as a source of terror funding.

      "These and many more multi-faceted reforms are expected to ensure India can withstand volatility of the global economy as well as ensure an upward growth trajectory," he asserted.

      Jaitley is on an official tour to the US to attend the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and other associated interactions.

      He is accompanied by RBI Governor Urjit Patel, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian.

      Separately participating in the Development Committee Restricted Lunch Session on the theme of 'Inequality', Jaitley said rich nations still have a big responsibility and obligation to use their resources to support multilateralism.

      Also, they need to make institutions like the World Bank strong to be able to fund policies and programmes for growth and development of poorer nations.

      India, according to Jaitley, has significantly stepped up investment in electricity, roads, financial access and housing for the poor and the government has taken a number of steps to ensure inclusive growth.

      It is using technological innovations in a big way for better targeting of government services, he said.

    Niti Aayog Brainstorms Over Long-Term Vision Document
    • The third meeting of Niti Aayog's Governing Council began today with the main agenda of deliberating on the 15-year Vision Document to accelerate the country's economic development.

      "#NowOn: Third Meeting of Niti Aayog's Governing Council begins with Prime Minister @narendramodi and Team India!," the government think-tank said in a tweet.

      "#TeamIndia, headed by PM @narendramodi, with Niti Aayog and all CMs, begin their deliberations to take India forward #CooperativeFederalism," it said in another tweet. 

      The day-long meeting of the Council is being held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya will make a presentation on roadmap for rapid transformation of India by outlining key aspects of the document, comprising a seven-year strategy paper and a three-year action plan, an official statement had said yesterday.

      Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will talk about the strategy for doubling farmers' income.

      The Council, which includes all Chief Ministers, Niti Aayog's members and special invitees, will also discuss the progress made towards the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from July 1.

      "During the meeting, action taken on decisions of the earlier two meetings of the Governing Council held on February 8, 2015 and July 15, 2015 respectively will be discussed in detail," the statement had said.

    General Awareness

    Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura chosen for Krishi Karman Award

    • Madhya Pradesh (MP) has been selected for Krishi Karman Award 2015-16 for highest production of wheat. MP has been selected for this award fifth time in a row.
      • Wheat production in MP stood at 184.10 lakh tonnes in 2015-16, marking a 7.64% rise as compared to 171.03 lakh tonnes production in 2014-15. In the coming year i.e. 2016-17, the production figure for wheat is expected to be around 212 lakh tonnes. Wheat productivity grew to 3,115 kg/hectare in 2015-16 as compared to 2850 kg/hectare in 2014-15.Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura chosen for Krishi Karman Award
      • To honour this feat, MP State Govt. will be given a trophy, citation letter and a cash reward of Rs 2 crore.
      • In addition to this award, two farmers from the state will be felicitated with “Agriculture Minister’s Krishi Karman Award for Progressive Farmers”, which includes a citation and a cash prize of Rs. 2 lakh. The farmers will be selected on basis of their contribution to production and adoption of innovative farming practices.
      Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh,  and Tripura chosen for Krishi Karman
      • Tamil Nadu has been chosen for Krishi Karman award 2015-16 in Category I – where food grains production is higher than10 million tonnes. Tamil Nadu had produced 130 lakh tonnes of food grains in 2015-16, which marks 2% rise as compared to 127.95 lakh tonnes in 2014-15. This is the fourth time.Tamil Nadu has bagged Krishi Karman Award in this category.
      • Himachal Pradesh has been chosen for Krishi Karman award 2015-16 in Category II – where food grains production is between 1 – 10 million tonnes. Himachal Pradesh produced 16.34 lakh tonnes of food grains in 2015-16 as compared to 14.94 lakh tonnes in 2014-15.
      • Tripura has been chosen for Krishi Karman award 2015-16 in Category III – where food grains production is lesser 1 million tonnes. Tripura produced 825,000 tonnes of food grains in 2015-16. This is the second time Tripura has bagged Krishi Karman Award in this category.
      • Meghalaya has been selected for commendation award for total food grains production. Commendation Awards are given to those States which achieve higher production and productivity in current year as compared to previous 4/5 years, yet could not qualify for Krishi Karman Awards in other categories.
      About Krishi Karman Awards:
      • Instituted in: 2010-11
      • Instituted by: Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
      • Objective: To honour best performing States in production of food grains and individual crops of Rice, Wheat, Pulses and Coarse Cereals
      • Award Amount: Rs. 5.00 crore for total food grains category, Rs. 2.00 crore for individual crops category and Rs. 1 crore as Commendation award

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