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Current Affairs - 26 April 2017

General Affairs 

Yogi Adityanath Hacks Off Public Holidays. 15 Gone In One Stroke
  • Government officials in Uttar Pradesh will have to work harder, and longer. The Yogi Adityanath Cabinet on Tuesday slashed the number of public holidays in the state, cancelling 15 holidays to mark anniversaries of eminent personalities.

    Most of these were introduced by the previous Akhilesh Yadav government that went to great lengths to reach out to different communities by shutting down government offices and schools. By the time the Samajwadi Party was booted out of power in the recent assembly elections, it had left behind a legacy of 42 public holidays. About 17 of them are meant to honour "great personalities".

    It is a burden that Yogi Adityanath was unwilling to carry. Not when he has made it clear that only officials who "can work for 18-20 hours every day can remain with us, others can go their own way."

    The first indication of the plan to cut down the number of holidays came earlier this month; Yogi Adityanath was addressing a function to commemorate the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

    If the idea is to perpetuate the memory of the famous personalities, and inspire people, why not keep the schools open and spend two hours to teach children about these eminent personalities, Chief Minister Adityanath asked.

    It wasn't an off-the-cuff remark. It is a point that the Chief Minister has made at meetings with officials when he demanded they get their act together; keep their offices clean and be at their desks on time. And just to make sure that he can keep track, the Chief Minister has also ordered officials to start installing biometric attendance machines at public offices, beginning with the state secretariat.

    On Tuesday, the Chief Minister - the minister in-charge of general administration and human resource - moved a formal proposal before his Cabinet.

    "The Cabinet has cancelled 15 public holidays marking the anniversaries of great personalities. Students will now be taught on these days about these figures through various programmes," Cabinet Minister Shrikant Sharma said.

    Uttar Pradesh is the first government to have sliced off its list of holidays.

    Pay Commissions at the Centre have on more than one occasion recommended that the central government should have just three public holidays, or at least prune the list of 17 public holidays. But no government has come close to accepting the suggestion in face of opposition from employee unions; the Seventh Pay Commission did not bother recommending a change.

CBI Files Case Against Its Former Director Ranjit Sinha
  • Did Ranjit Sinha, the former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation or CBI, misuse his powers to influence the investigation in the coal scam case? Three months after the Supreme Court ordered a detailed inquiry into the matter, the agency has filed a case against its former chief. The charges involve criminal misconduct and abuse of official position. Mr Sinha has denied any wrongdoing. The scam, dubbed Coal Gate, involved the allocation of coal fields to private firms and took place when Dr Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister.
    In 2014, as Mr Sinha was about to retire as the head of the agency, allegations surfaced that he had met people accused in the case at his home as often as "50-60 times". Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who took the matter to court, said Mr Sinha had compromised his agency's investigation against the people who had been accused of corruption in the allocation of coal blocks.  

    The court, accepting the logs from a visitors' book at Mr Sinha's home as authentic, had put the new CBI chief, Alok Verma, in charge of the investigation.  

    Both Alok Verma and interim chief RK Asthana had to give affidavits that investigating a former chief by CBI men will not involve a conflict of interest.While Mr Sinha was not available for comment, his lawyer Vikas Singh said he has no information about the matter.

    The coal scam had hit the headlines in 2012 after an audit by the national auditor revealed that the country has lost up to Rs. 1.86 lakh crore in the process of allotting coal blocks. The allotments of mining rights over a decade were made to private firms at depressed prices, the auditor said. In 2014, the Supreme Court cancelled the allocations.

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not been charged with any crime, but has been investigated for criminal breach of trust and conspiracy in the allocation of a coal field in 2005 to Hindalco Industries. The firm, part of the $40 billion Aditya Birla Group, has denied that it manipulated the government and its processes.

After Sukma Attack, Home Ministry To Take Stock Of Anti-Maoist Ops In 10 States
  • A day after the deadly Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh's Sukma, the worst in seven years, the government said it will hold a meeting on May 8 to discuss security operations in 10 Maoist-hit states. The meeting, convened by the Union home ministry, will be attended by senior officials from 35 districts spread across the states.

    Sources said there is no scope of using the armed forces against Maoists. Over the last decades, security operations in Maoist-hit areas are being conducted by the Central Reserve Police Force or CRPF.

    In Chhattisgarh alone, the paramilitary force has lost nearly 200 men since 2010 -- 25 of them in yesterday's ambush. In March, after 12 CRPF men were killed, Union 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.

    Yesterday, the minister said the government was taking the attack as a "challenge".

    Nearly 300 Maoists, armed with rocket launchers and AK-47s, had ambushed a group of 99 CRPF men, who were on an area sanitization mission for an under-construction road. In the 3-hour gun-battle that followed, 25 CRPF men had died, six were critically injured. Most of the commandos who died were part of a small group that had sat down for lunch.

    The government says over the last year, the attacks in Maoist-hit areas have dwindled. The number of Maoist-affected districts has shrink from 108 to 68. In 2016, no attack has taken place in 40 districts. Sukma, part of Chhattisgarh's south Bastar, is still part of the Maoist strongholds.

3-Hour Battle With Maoists, Air Force Rescue, And Bravery Of CRPF Jawans
  • After a crowd of at least 300 Naxals closed in on paramilitary commandos, ambushing them in the thick forest of Chhattisgarh's Sukma district, the Air Force swooped in to help, with its helicopters landing in the heart of a Maoist stronghold, despite concerns of the insurgents opening fire. The unarmed transport helicopters helped evacuate the soldiers that had been injured.

    By then, the attack - the worst in seven years on security forces in the state - had crossed three hours, revealed DM Awasthi, the Director General of Maoist Operations of the Chhattisgarh Police. 

    25 members of the Central Reserve Police Force or CRPF were killed yesterday. Six others were critically injured and evacuated by helicopter to Raipur, where Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited them in hospital today.  

    The CRPF contingent of about 100 people was guarding road workers, when they came under heavy fire from the Naxals. Women were among the attackers. Most of the commandos who died were part of a group of about 25 that had sat down for a quick lunch break, disclosed Mr Awasthi. The road that was under construction is planned as a major highway in South Bastar, one of the most under-developed areas of the country.   As the 25 CRPF jawans on their lunch break were attacked, the others fought back immediately. A soldier who survived the attack, Sher Mohammed, said from his hospital bed, "They had rocket launchers...automatic weapons, AK47s..." But Mr Awasthi denied the use of either rocket launchers or IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices. Like Sher Mohammed, he said several Maoists were killed without revealing a count, and that the insurgents who escaped managed to swipe AK47s from the CRPF commandos.

    The Maoists had observed the CRPF's routine for over a week, said Mr Awasthi, stating that they "knew exactly when and where to attack." For the CRPF operating in areas infested with Maoists, it is standard procedure to mix up routines and routes to prevent exactly what happened yesterday.

    The Home Minister has called a meeting on May 8 of top officials from states like Chhattisgarh who are vulnerable to Maoists. He warned that "we may revise strategy" to deal with the insurgency, and pledged that "the sacrifices of those who died will not be in vain."

    The Maoists, who claim to be protectors of tribals and their rights, regularly attack patrol parties and those involved with building new roads and infrastructure in the remote areas because it undermines their claim against the state. "There were 38 civilian contractors present yesterday, not one civilian died, the jawans fought to save them," said Mr Awasthi, emphasizing the heroic bravery of the commandos.

Foreign Media On Man Kaur, Age 101, "The Miracle From Chandigarh"
  • A 101-year-old runner who has been dubbed the "miracle from Chandigarh" by New Zealand media celebrated her latest gold medal with a modest little dance after winning the 100-meter sprint at the World Masters Games on Monday.

    Man Kaur, who hails from India, ran the race in 1:14:00 - a time that the Times of India cheekily reports is "a mere 64.42 seconds off" Usain Bolt's world record - and could have taken her sweet time because she was the only athlete competing in her 100-and-over age category in the Auckland competition.

    "I enjoyed it and am very, very happy," she told reporters through an interpreter, according to the Times. "I'm going to run again, I'm not going to give up. I will participate, there's no full stop."

    Kaur had no previous running experience when her son, Gurdev Singh, invited her to join him on the international masters games circuit. "'You have no problem, no knee problem, no heart problem, you should start running,'" he recalled telling her in an Associated Press interview last summer.

    She was 93 at the time.

    Since then, she and her son, who is 79, have been regulars on the circuit and Kaur has more than 20 medals, including winning the shot put and javelin in the American Masters games last summer.

    "When she wins, she goes back to India, and she's excited to tell others, 'I have won so many medals from this country,' " Singh said. "Winning makes her happy."

    Kaur runs five or 10 short distances every evening in her hometown of Chandigarh. And her secret may be a strict diet that, her son told Indian Weekender, includes wheat grass juice and a daily glass of kefir.

Business Affairs 

Modi govt plans to monetise 105 highway projects for about Rs 145,000 cr
  • India will monetise 105 highway projects for about INR 145,000 crore in the coming years as part of new innovative models of financing, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said here on Tuesday.
    "The traffic density in India is very high and the internal return on rates is very good," the Minister of road transport and highways said during a presentation on India Integrated Transport & Logistics Summit 2017 which will be held in New Delhi from May 3-5.
    "105 projects will be monetised (for about) INR 145,000 crore," Gadkari said.
    "Now we require investments because there is no risk factor," he said, assuring of a good rate of return from highway toll collections.
    "Particularly, for new investment, there are a lot of innovative models," said Gadkari who also launched a roadshow for promoting National High Authority of India's (NHAI) first rupee-denominated masala bonds here on Monday.
    He also highlighted NHAI's AAA ratings.
    "There are opportunities ... we are very transparent ...and very committed to the progress," he said.
    Responding to financing and funding questions from delegates, the minister said he would be using "100 per cent of the National Investment Infrastructure Fund," an another innovative way of financing projects.
    Among some of the challenging projects, Gadkari assured that Brahmaputra Express Highway will be developed as a national highway.
    It will be the first highway project in the northeastern region which will be developed along the Brahmaputra river in Assam at an estimated investment of INR 40,000 crore.
    "We are serious about it. We will declare it as a national highway and we will work on it," he assured.
    Detailed project report is expected in about three months for the 1,300-km of highway, construction of which would be completed in about three years.
    A new company has been formed for road construction in the North East, he said.
    "Connectivity in the North East is most important priority for our government," he said.
    Elaborating, he stressed "We have sanctioned more than INR 40,000 crore of projects and I am confident within two years it would be INR 1,50,000 crore of road construction in North East which is going to change the face of North East."

GST to boost domestic manufacturing, won't up inflation: Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia
  • The government on Tuesday said GST will not lead to inflation and rather make domestic goods competitive via-a-vis imported items.
    Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia dismissed fears that GST implementation will lead to a spurt in prices, saying that unlike in other countries, the transition to the new tax regime would be smooth in India.
    He said several countries witnessed inflation following GST rollout as they had single point taxation system. In the case of India, there are multiple points of taxation and hence the possibility of sudden spurt in inflation is remote.
    "Presently, we are tapping VAT at each stage of supply chain, from manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer. We already have multiple points taxation. Under GST, we are just merging the taxes of the Centre and states. The inflation which happened in other countries was because they shifted from single point taxation to GST," Adhia said at the GST Conclave here.
    He said that once the new indirect tax regime is rolled out, the incidence of tax on imported goods would be the same as on the locally manufactured items.
    The imported goods, he explained, will be subject to Integrated GST (IGST) for which credit can be claimed at the time of sale. IGST is just an interim tax or a washout tax which is equivalent to the GST rate on a specific product.
    In case of locally manufactured goods, a similar GST rate will be applicable and hence, there will be no advantage for the imported goods.
    The government levies countervailing duty (CVD) and special additional duty (SAD) on imported goods to protect domestic manufacturers.
    "The incidence of tax on imported goods will be equivalent to the tax paid by the local industry. This will strengthen domestic manufacturing and Make in India," Adhia said.
    Goods and services tax (GST), which is proposed to be rolled out from July 1, will unify at least 10 different central and state levies and make India a uniform market for seamless transfer of goods and services.
    Adhia said as many as 71 per cent of the existing taxpayers have already migrated to the GSTN portal and the CBEC has asked field offices to organise awareness camps in towns with a population of 1 lakh or more.
    Also, the department will come out with sector-wise guidance note for GST implementation.
    The Centre and states have also agreed to keep businesses with turnover of up to Rs 20 lakh out of the GST ambit.
    For entities with turnover of up to Rs 50 lakh can opt for composition or compounding scheme under which traders and manufacturers will be required to file tax at 1 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively. Besides, restaurants within this threshold will attract 5 per cent tax.
    Adhia said businesses opting for the composition scheme will have to file returns quarterly and only provide details of turnover. There is no need for filing of invoice-wise detail.
    With regard to the provision in the Act on refund of IGST paid by international tourists, he said it will not be implemented with effect from July 1 GST rollout date.
    Asked whether VAT would be refunded at the airport to foreign tourists, Adhia said: "We have kept that provision in the Act, but to implement it will take time. Immediately, it won't be available to foreign tourists, but after some time, we will see. We will have to develop a mechanism for it. We are not implementing this provision from July 1."
    The IGST Act provides that integrated tax paid by tourists leaving India on any supply of goods taken out of the country by him shall be refunded. However, the conditions and safeguards are yet to be prescribed.
    The IGST Act defines 'tourist' as a person who enters India for a stay of not more than six months for legitimate non-immigrant purpose.

Foreign cardiac stent makers irked by price cap in India, likely to pull out high-end products
  • India's cardiac stent market was certainly the last thing on Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's mind when she said that the restrictive visa regime being planned by the US can have an (adverse) impact on US companies operating in India.
    The minister's comment was in response to US President Donald Trump's move to restrict temporary job (H-1B) visas - a decision seen as impacting Indian software firms that use this route to send professionals to handle US assignments. If the minister's comment can be seen as a response to a restrictive regulation that harmed the interests of Indian firms, India may have to brace itself for similar complaints from the US and other developed countries soon as it has made life difficult for foreign multinational medical device makers in the country.
    At least three leading global medical device makers - Abbott, Medtronics and Boston Scientific - are known to have sought permission to pull out their top end cardiac stents from the Indian market due to a price cap imposed by the government. The companies allege that government price control has made sale of latest generation drug eluting stents unviable in India.
    Though not comparable, a crisis borne out of Indian regulation has irked foreign multinational cardiac stent makers. And that is what the companies are trying to highlight by deciding to pull out their high-end products from Indian markets.
    Thanks to the increasing number of heart diseases and its population, India has been one of the fastest growing cardiac stent markets globally. While a bare metal stent was available at less than Rs 10,000, high end drug eluting stents (DES) like the Bioresorbable Vascular Scaffold (BVS) stents was costing over Rs 100,000 until the government decided in February 2017 to cap the prices of both the categories. While the maximum price of bare metal stent was fixed at Rs 7260, DES had to be sold at Rs 29,600 or less. A minor inflation linked increase saw this price move to Rs 7400 and Rs 30,180 a month later.
    Global stent manufacturers, who enjoy over 60 percent domestic market share had a reason to worry as the price cap disrupted their future launch plans for India. The prices of their existing products came down. Since the difference between the price realised by the companies and the MRP was huge, in most cases, the lowering of retail price had only impacted the trade margins, but not the companies' profitability. Still, it curtailed the freedom of the companies to launch new products in this category as such products, unless categorised separately, cannot be priced differently.
    Trump's problem was with low cost skilled labour.  India's problem is high costs of stents. Restrictive regulation has turned out to be the solution in both cases.

      Google expands Indian language support across products
      • In an effort to keep the Internet alive and interesting for a billion Indians, search giant Google has announced the launch of multiple Indian languages support across its products. To start with, Google Translate will use Google's new neural machine translation  technology for translating English in nine Indian languages -- Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayalam and Kannada.
        The company also claims that neural translation offers a huge improvement over the old phrase-based system, translating full sentences at a time, instead of parts of a sentence. Using the new machine learning technology, translation speed has been increased from 10 seconds per sentence to 0.2 seconds per sentence in just two months. Google has announced the extension of neural machine translation to Chrome browser's built-in auto-translate functionality, which results in quick and accurate full-page translations. The new service is also accessible on Google Search and Google Maps, on mobile as well as on desktop.

        Google says that over the past few years, the rapid scale of the Internet adoption across the country has set the ball rolling and today India language users have already overtaken the total number of English language users in India. It says 68 per cent Internet users consider digital content in local languages to be more reliable than English feeds.
        Google has also extended its support for 11 more Indian languages for Gboard, a new keyboard for iOS and Android devices. Google Search has been built right into the keyboard, allowing users to search and use Google Translate. There is also a "Hinglish" language option with new text editing tool, making select, copy and paste options much easier. The Gboard also offers auto-correction and prediction in new languages along with two layouts for each -- one in the native language script and one with the QWERTY layout for translation.
        Moreover, Google has also added a Hindi dictionary for Google Search. The results will be fetched from Rajpal & Sons dictionary in collaboration with the Oxford University Press.

      Wipro Q4 profit up marginally; announces bonus shares
      • Wipro on Tuesday posted a marginal increase in its consolidated profit at Rs 2,267 crore for the quarter ended March.
        The country's third-largest software services firm had registered a profit of Rs 2,257.3 crore in the year-ago period, as per Indian accounting norms.
        The total income stood at Rs 15,033.8 crore in the said quarter compared to Rs 14,312.7 crore in the year-ago period, up over 5 per cent.
        The company, which competes with the likes of TCS and Infosys, has said it will issue bonus shares within the next two months.
        The move comes as larger peers like TCS and Infosys have already announced mega share buybacks to offer rich returns to shareholders.
        Wipro will offer one bonus share for every one share held, the company said, adding that this was done to encourage participation of small investors, increase liquidity and expand retail shareholder base.
        "... the issuance of bonus shares was not part of the agenda papers for the board meeting," it stated.
        For the year ended March 2017, Wipro's profit fell nearly 5 per cent to Rs 8,518 crore while total income grew 7.4 per cent to Rs 57,995 crore compared to the previous financial year.
        The company expects revenues from its IT services business to be in the range of USD 1,915-1,955 million for the April-June 2017 quarter.
        IT service accounts for the lion's share of Wipro's business. This grew 3.9 per cent in the March quarter to USD 1,954.6 million from the year-ago period.
        For the year, IT services revenues were up 4.9 per cent at USD 7.7 billion from the previous fiscal.

        General Awareness

        Northeast India’s largest IT hub opens in Tripura

        • Northeast India’s largest Information Technology (IT) hub has been inaugurated in Tripura’s capital city Agartala on April 24, 2017. It is the sixth IT hub in the Northeast region.
          • The IT hub was inaugurated by Manik Sarkar – Chief Minister of Tripura, Tapan Chakraborty  – IT and Education Minister of Tripura and Omkar Rai – Director General  of Software Technology Parks of India (STPI).
          • This IT hub has been set up at a cost of Rs. 50 crore and with the help of technical knowledge shared by STPI, under the union Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology.
          Expected Benefits from IT hub in Tripura:
          • This IT hub will help India to export software technology.
          • It has been built as per global standards and will thus attract famous IT companies to set up their centres in Tripura.
          • Arrival of IT and IT related companies will provide employment opportunities for IT educated youths of Tripura.
          • Besides having space for IT and multi-national IT companies, the hub also has ready-to-use incubation space which will be provided to start-up companies and budding entrepreneurs.
          • Sarkar is also hopeful that, the new IT hub will facilitate in extending the e-governance initiatives to the door step of people.
          Information Technology (IT) Penetration in Tripura:
          Last year, Tripura was awarded by central government for its performance in IT and e-governance initiatives.
          • Tripura State Govt. has put serious efforts to extend several e-governance based facilities and services up to gram panchayat level.
          • Through e-district scheme, people are now able to get various certificates and documents from their panchayats or blocks.
          • 30 lakh people (80% of population) in Tripura are having access to mobile phones.
          Quick Facts about Tripura:
          • Capital City: Agartala
          • Current Governor: Tathagata Roy
          • Current Chief Minister: Manik Sarkar
          • Ruling Party: Communist Party of India (Marxist)
          • Neighbouring Indian States: Assam and Mizoram

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