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Current Affairs - 25 April 2017

General Affairs 

Sukma Attack: 26 CRPF Personnel Dead In Encounter With Maoists
  • In the deadliest ambush by Maoists since April 2010, 26 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force died and six were injured in Chhattisgarh's Sukma this afternoon. The well-planned massacre started around 1 pm, when the men from the 74 Battalion were sanitizing the area for a group of construction workers building a road.

    The Maoists had first sent locals to find out the position of the CRPF, one of the survivors told the media. "Then we were set upon by 300 of them... villagers, women and the militia-types in black uniforms. They carried automatic weapons, AK 47, Insas rifles," he said.    

    After the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted:

    Attack on @crpfindia personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly & deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely.

    Spoke to MoS Home Shri Hansraj Ahir about the attack in Sukma. Shri Ahir is going to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation.

    The injured men have been air-lifted and sent to Raipur and Jagdalpur for treatment. Sources in the home ministry said two of the bodies have been recovered.

    On April 6, 2010, 76 men of CRPF died in Dantewada as they were on an area domination exercise.

    Following the attack, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh cut short his visit to Delhi and rushed back to Raipur for an emergency meeting.  

    Sukma is part of south Bastar, which for decades has suffered the Maoist menace. On 11 March, 12 CRPF men were killed and four were injured in an ambush in Sukma. The forces were providing security cover for road construction on the Bheji-Gorkha-Injiram Axis area.

    After the attack, one of the biggest in the last two years, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said it was a sign of the "frustration" of the Maoists because of the "unprecedented success" of the security operations against them.

    Making a statement in Lok Sabha, the minister said last year, 135 extremists were killed, 700 were arrested, 1,198 surrendered, and there was a 15 per cent drop in the number of attacks.

    Quoting local officers, news agency Press Trust of India reported that reinforcements have been rushed to the area from the nearest camp of the CRPF.

'Aadhaar Cards' For Cows? Centre Suggests System To Check Smuggling
  • An Aadhaar-like unique identity system for cows has been proposed by the centre in the Supreme Court. Unique identification numbers will help track cows and prevent their smuggling, a committee appointed by the Home Ministry said today, amid a raging debate provoked by mob attacks by cow vigilantes in many states.

    The court was hearing a petition by an organisation, the Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh, which alleged rampant smuggling of cattle across the border to Bangladesh.

    The UID number should be mandatory and should have details like "age, breed, sex, lactation, height, body, color, horn type, tail switch, special marks details of the animal", the committee suggested.

    It also recommended that the state government be responsible for the safety and care of abandoned animals.

    Each district, the committee suggested, should have a shelter home of 500-capacity for abandoned animals to help reduce smuggling and such units should be funded by the state.

    The Supreme Court will take up the case tomorrow. The committee is led by the joint secretary of the home ministry.

    The petitioner wants the court to ask the Railways to check illegal transporting of cattle.

    A series of cow vigilante attacks have stirred protests and anger in recent weeks in states like Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Jharkhand, especially as it is the victims of thrashing that have been charged or arrested by the police first, for allegedly transporting cows illegally.

    In Rajasthan, a diary owner, Pehlu Khan, was beaten to death while he was transporting livestock bought from a fair in Jaipur. He and his companions were attacked even though they had a permit.

    Reacting to the ID proposal, Left leader D Raja said, "The government should take strong action against cow vigilantes groups and those who resort to violence."

Rajnath Singh Calls For Living Entity Status For Narmada River
  • Union Minister Rajnath Singh today suggested that the Madhya Pradesh government should bring a bill in the state assembly to give a living entity status to river Narmada.

    Responding to the suggestion, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan assured that his government would introduce a bill to that effect in the next session of the legislative assembly.

    Both the leaders were speaking at a function organised in Mandla on the occasion of the Narmada Seva Yatra that is underway in Madhya Pradesh.

    "Bring a bill to give a living entity status to river Narmada," Mr Singh said.

    "The Supreme Court has already accepted rivers as living entities," he added.

    The Union Home Minister said the Indian Constitution stands for protection and conservation of rivers. According to him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to protect and conserve rivers.

    For this purpose, a budgetary allocation of Rs. 20,000 crore has been made, he said adding, "Under this programme, shortage of money won't come in the way of cleaning the rivers, especially the Ganga river."

    "The Namami Gange programme was launched with this aim only and the Prime Minister has said that even if this budgetary allocation goes up to Rs. one lakh crore, his government will make a provision for it," Mr Singh said.

    Mr Chouhan said he will bring a bill in the next assembly session to give Narmada a living entity status. "Narmada will be treated as a human being and anyone who harms it will be punished," he said.

    After the event, Mr Singh and Mr Chouhan headed to take part in the Narmada Sewa Yatra and the 'maha-aarti'.

India Not Discussing Individual Cases With US: Nirmala Sitharaman On H-1B Visa
  • Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today said the government has taken up the H-1B visa issue with the US but it is not discussing the problems of individual IT companies.

    "We are certainly talking with the US administration on H-1B visas. However, I am not talking on each of these firms," she told reporters in New Delhi.

    She was responding to a query about the US accusations that top Indian IT firms including TCS and Infosys were unfairly cornering the lion's share of H-1B visas by putting extra tickets in the lottery system, which the Trump administration wants to replace with a more merit-based immigration policy.

    The minister said India has raised the issue of change in the H-1B visa policy and "not on specific companies".

    As regards H-1B, after due discussions, an understanding was reached between India and US on issuance of these visas and India is raising the issue of proposed changes announced by America.

    Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has already raised the issue of restrictions on H-1B visa twice with the US as India fears the curb would impact the movement of Indian IT professionals to America.

    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 USD 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.

    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.

A Crucial Yogi Adityanath Plan Is Cleared By Supreme Court
  • The Supreme Court has cleared the plan submitted by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to fill lakhs of vacancies in the police force of India's most populous state. 

    Yogi Adityanath, who took over as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh a little over a month ago, has said that he plans to recruit about 33,000 constables and sub-inspectors every year, to fill the gap by September 2021.

    The Supreme Court also said that if there are delays, the blame will fall upon the Principal Secretary or senior-most bureaucrat in the state's Home Ministry.

    Last week the Supreme Court said that nearly 5.52 lakh posts in the police forces of different states must urgently be filled. Uttar Pradesh had the biggest deficiency with 1.5 lakh vacancies, against a sanctioned strength of 3.5 lakh constables and officers. 

    The case was filed in 2013 as a Public Interest Litigation.

Business Affairs 

Reliance Industries records highest-ever net profit at Rs 29,901 crore
  • Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries on Monday posted its highest ever annual consolidated profit at Rs 29,901 crore for the financial year ended March 31, 2016. The annual profit was 18.8 per cent higher than the previous year's.
    The oil-to-telecom conglomerate reported a 12.3 per cent jump in its March quarter net profit on the back of higher refining and petrochemical margins.
    Consolidated net profit in January-March quarter at Rs 8,046 crore, or Rs 27.3 per share, was 12.3 per cent higher than Rs 7,167 crore net profit in the same period a year ago, the company said in a statement.
    Commenting on the results, Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries Limited said: "RIL generated its highest ever annual profits at Rs 29,901 crore, registering a growth of 18.8 per cent on Y-o-Y basis. Refining and petrochemicals businesses achieved record levels of profitability, underpinned by our ability to access feedstock competitively from global markets, maintain high operating rates and place products in growth markets."
    Reliance Retail has displayed encouraging performance with revenues growing by 60.2 per cent and EBITDA by 40.4 per cent on YoY basis, Ambani said in a press release.
    "In digital services, the Jio movement is set to transform India. Jio is witnessing the largest migration from free to paid services in history. Jio is committed to provide its customers the highest quality and the world's most affordable data and voice services," Ambani added. 
    Reliance Jio Infocom on Monday said it has posted a net loss of Rs 22.50 crore for the six months ended March 31, wider from a year ago when it was at Rs 7.46 crore. The company said that the number of Jio subscribers as of March 31 stands at 108.9 million and Jio paid subscriber base is at 72 million.
    Reliance earned $11.5 on turning every barrel of crude oil into fuel in the fourth quarter as compared to a gross refining margin of $10.8 per barrel in the same period a year before.

Small and mid-sized cars may see hike in prices under GST
  • Small and mid-sized cars may see a small hike in prices after the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is rolled out from July 1 as different goods are fitted into the four-slab rate structure.
    The GST will unify at least 10 central and state taxes into one.
    Goods and services will have to fall into one of the approved four rate categories of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent, which is closest rate to the present incidence of taxation.
    Small cars currently attract a 12.5 per cent central excise duty. Another 14.5-15 per cent VAT is levied by states, taking the total tax incidence to 27-27.5 per cent.
    A senior finance ministry official said the closed slab for this category of cars would be 28 per cent, resulting in a small increase in price.
    Mid-sized cars of up to 1500 cc are levied with a 24 per cent excise by the the central government and a 14.5 per cent VAT by state governments, taking the tax incidence to 38.5 per cent.
    So this category of vehicles will attract the highest tax rate of 28 per cent and a state compensation cess to take the total incidence closer to the current levels, the official said.
    The GST law provides for levy of cess on top of the peak tax rate on demerit and luxury goods like pan masala, tobacco and certain class of automobiles to create a corpus that will be used to compensate states for loss of revenue arising on account of the implementation of the GST in first five years.
    The official said a cess of up to 15 per cent is provided in the GST Compensation Law and the final incidence of taxation would be arrived at adding the same to the peak rate.
    The cess would be levied in a manner so as to keep the final incidence of taxation at close to current levels, he said.
    For SUV and bigger cars of more than 1500 cc, the current incidence of taxation is 41.5 per cent to 44.5 per cent (comprising of 27-30 per cent of central excise and the remaining 14.5 per cent being state VAT).
    The official said these class of vehicles would be put in the peak 28 per cent tax bracket and maximum 15 per cent cess.
    This would take the total incidence of taxation to 43 per cent.
    This means that for a select few vehicles, the tax incidence would be marginally lower than at present and would thus result in lower prices if the manufacturer passes on the benefit to the consumers.
    Dubbed as the biggest tax reform since Independence, the GST is to unify at least 10 indirect taxes into one to be collected at state and central levels.
    Under the existing structure, the central government levies a production tax, called excise duty, and the state government charge a sales tax called VAT.

India is now world's fifth largest military spender
  • India's military expenditure grew around 8.5 per cent in 2016, making it the world's fifth largest spender at $55.9 billion.
    According to figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) on Monday, India spent $55.9 billion on its military in 2016.
    US remains the world's largest military spender registering a growth of 1.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016 to $611 billion.
    Military expenditure by China, which was the second largest spender in 2016, increased by 5.4 per cent to $215 billion, a much lower rate of growth than in previous years.
    However, the growth rate was "much lower" than in the previous years, the SIPRI report said.
    The third largest military spender was Russia, which has increased its spending by 5.9 per cent to $69.2 billion.
    Saudi Arabia was the third largest spender in 2015 but dropped to fourth position in 2016. Spending by Saudi Arabia fell by 30 per cent in 2016 to $63.7 billion, despite its continued involvement in regional wars.
    Pakistan does not figure in the top 15 spenders.
    "The growth in US military expenditure in 2016 may signal the end of a trend of decreases in spending, which resulted from the economic crisis and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq," the report said.
    US spending in 2016 remained 20 per cent lower than its peak in 2010, it added.

      HCL Tech to acquire Urban Fulfillment Services for $30 mn
      • India's fourth-largest software services firm HCL Technologies said on Monday it would acquire US-based Urban Fulfillment Services (UFS) for up to $30 million (over Rs 193 crore) in cash.
        UFS is a provider of mortgage business process and fulfilment services. Founded in 2002, the company has over 350 highly skilled professionals. It has three centres in the US. The total cash consideration for this transaction is up to $30 million, including contingent payments subject to certain financial milestones, HCL said in a regulatory filing.
        The deal is expected to be completed by June this year, subject to certain closing conditions including transfer of licences and approval of the customers, it added. Mortgage servicing is a regulated activity in the US and the transaction would require regulatory approvals for obtaining the licences.
        "The acquisition of UFS strengthens HCL's capabilities in mortgage BPO services, loan fulfilment and debt servicing space," said HCL Technologies Corporate Vice President and Global Head, Business Services Anoop Tiwari. The UFS turnover in 2016 was $48 million. 

      7th Pay Commission review panel likely to submit report to government on 27th April
      • The Committee on Allowances, which was formed to review the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, is likely to submit its report to the government on April 27, according to reports. This could have an impact on 50 lakh government employees who are waiting to enjoy the benefits of revised pay. The long delay in allowances has left government employees frustrated. The report is expected to be submitted to the Finance Ministry as soon as Arun Jaitley returns from the US from his five-day official visit. It is believed Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa who is heading the panel has already finalised the report.
        Here's a background to the Seventh Pay Commission story:
        The Seventh Pay Commission had recommended abolishing 53 of the 196 allowances, and subsuming 36 other allowances. It also recommended slashing the House Rent Allowance (HRA)--for metros, commission recommended bringing down the HRA from 30 per cent to 24 per cent.
        The Seventh  Pay Commission had recommended the rate of House Rent Allowance (HRA) be kept at 24 percent, 16 percent and 8 percent of the Basic Pay for Class X, Y and Z cities respectively.
        Government employees protested the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, following which the Narendra Modi government formed a committee under Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa to review the suggestions.
        The Committee on Allowances was constituted in July and after an extended deadline was asked to submit its report to the government by February 22, 2017.
        That the Ashok Lavasa-led committee had missed its deadline was revealed by Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal while replying to a question on Seventh Pay Commission in Parliament.
        It was reported that the Committee on Allowances could not submit its report as it had sought comments from various ministries on 14 allowances.
        Speculations are rife that the Committee on Allowances is likely to recommend against reducing HRA. Although, a few reports had suggested that the committee is unlikely to vote for a hike in transport allowance.

        General Awareness

        Goldman Environmental Prize for Prafulla Samantra

        • 65 year-old social activist, Prafulla Samantra has been announced as one of the six winners of 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize. The award ceremony was held on April 24, 2017 in San Francisco, US.
          • The Goldman Environmental Prize website describes Prafulla Samantra as “An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, who led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminium ore mine.”
          • Prafulla Samantra is the sixth Indian to receive this prestigious award. Other Indians who have won this award in the past are Medha Patkar, M.C. Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla and Ramesh Agrawal.
          Tribals of Niyamgiri Hills Vs. Vedanta Resources:
          Niyamgiri Hills, located in Odisha is home to around 8000 members of an indigenous tribe called Dongria Kondh. Niyamgiri hills and the surrounding forest land hold tremendous social, economic and spiritual importance for this tribe.
          • In October 2004, an agreement was signed between the Odisha State Mining Company (OMC) and UK-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite, an aluminium ore, in the Niyamgiri Hills. The mining of bauxite and other activities to support it would have destroyed massive portion of forest land. This threatened the existence of tribal people in Niyamgiri hills.
          • Prafulla Samantra, who is a trained lawyer took up the cause of tribal people and filed a petition against the project before a Supreme Court panel. On April 18, 2013, Supreme Court took a historic decision and empowered local communitiesthrough the village council to have the final say on whether to allow the mining project or not. By August 2013, all tribal village councils unanimously voted against the mining activity which forced Vedanta to terminate its mining plan.
          • During the litigation process, Prafulla Samantra was kidnapped, assaulted and attacked several times. He was even accused of taking an ‘anti-development’ stance.
          Other Winners of 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize:
          • Mark Lopez – United States
          • UroŇ° Macerl – Slovenia
          • Rodrigo Tot – Guatemala
          • Rodrigue Katembo – Democratic Republic of Congo
          • Wendy Bowman – Australia
          About Goldman Environmental Prize:
          • Founders: Richard and Rhoda Goldman
          • First Awarded in: 1990
          • Awarded for: Outstanding efforts to protect and enhance natural environment
          • Prize: The winners are provided funds to support the cause for which they undertook the struggle. Besides, every winner receives a bronze sculpture called the Ouroboros, which depicts a serpent biting its tail.

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