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Current Affairs - 8 April 2017

General Affairs 

EVMs Are Accurate, Says Election Commission Refuting Tampering Charge In Bhind
  • Rejecting the Opposition's charge that the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in Madhya Pradesh's Bhind had voted only for the BJP during a demonstration last week, the Election Commission (EC) today said, "it is completely false to say that at multiple times slips of lotus were printed on pressing different buttons".

    After the video of demonstration of the EVM in Bhind went viral, a report by the Election Commission team today said that "the accuracy of the functioning of the EVMs and Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT)... is beyond doubt".

    "The team has found no anomaly or tampering in EVM and VVPAT used during demonstration in  Bhind on March 31," the report said.

    The video had showed the EVM recording a vote in favour of the BJP irrespective of which party was selected. Based on the video, the opposition parties alleged that EVMs could be tampered with. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, too, joined the chorus and said that tampering on a "massive scale" was exposed in Bhind.

    But the EC team said when four buttons were pressed on the machine during the demonstration, only one went to lotus.

    The report also said that the lapse related to non-deletion of the pre-loaded data of Govind Nagar in UP from where VVPATs (not EVMs) were received and reloading of the symbols/data of dummy candidate before demonstration as per the protocol demand action against officers in charge and made it clear that "there should be no room for casualness in handling the electoral matters".  

    Three district officers lost their jobs and an inquiry was initiated against 19 others for not doing their job well.

April Snow, Heavy Rains Take Damaging Toll On Fruit Crops In Jammu And Kashmir
  • Srinagar was wrapped in a white blanket. But it wasn't a pretty picture as the unexpected April snowfall triggered multiple avalanches and floods in Jammu and Kashmir. Schools have shut down, people are stuck on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and there is a shortage of food. That the Jhelum waters have started to recede brought some relief, these calamities are going to have a lasting impact on the state's economy.

    Damages to trade, hotels, restaurants, horticulture and handicraft are the first to be noticed, but heavy rains and unseasonal snowfall have completely destroyed the fruit crops in the Valley. Farmer Bashir Ahmad's hopes have dashed to the ground. He was expecting a good yield this season. His daughter gets married next summer, but snowfall in the flowering season destroyed his pear orchard causing losses of over Rs. 2 lakh.

    "The snow has destroyed all the blossoms, now there is no hope for revival. When the sun comes back, the rest of the blossoms will also fall," said Mr Ahmad. Freak weather conditions have caused major damages to almond, pear and cherry crops.

    A little ahead another farmer Mohammad Shaban is also counting his losses. He has never seen such devastation due to snow in April. He will also suffer huge losses.

    "The farmers have suffered the most due to the unseasonal snow. This was just the beginning of the flowering season, now there can't be a recovery," Mr Shaban said.

    Horticulture is the mainstay of Kashmir's economy. Freak weather conditions have caused major damages to almond, pear and cherry crops. "There is lot of damage to the fruit crops because it is a peak flowering season, naturally there is a big loss," said Mukhtar Ahmad, Deputy Director, Meteorological Department, Kashmir

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi today spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and offered all possible support in dealing with the flood situation in the valley. "Spoke to J&K CM @MehboobaMufti on the flood situation in the state. Offered all possible support from Centre in dealing with the situation," he tweeted after his discussion.

    The administration had issued a flood alert in the Valley after the Jhelum started flowing above the danger mark. Many low-lying areas have been flooded and there are concerns about the by-elections in Srinagar and Anantnag parliamentary constituencies, slated to be held on April 9 and 12.

    In 2014, the state was hit by the worst floods in over a century, throwing basic infrastructure like power, railways and communication in the state completely out of gear. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry had estimated loss of Rs. 5,400-5,700 crore in the state.

Rs. 141 Crore Worth New 500-and 2000-Rupee Notes Seized In Raids: Arun Jaitley
  • The Income Tax department, Enforcement Directorate and other government agencies have seized Rs. 141.13 crore worth of new currency notes of Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 500 while acting in different parts of the country, Lok Sabha was informed today.

    Of this amount, Rs. 110 crore was seized by the IT Department, Rs. 4.54 crore seized by ED, Rs. 26.21 crore by the CBI and Rs. 38 lakh by the DRI, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said during Question Hour.

    "All new Indian currency notes of Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 500 denominations seized by the ED are deposited in SBI or any nationalised banks so that they come back in circulation," he said.

    Mr Jaitely said all government agencies including ED, CBI, IT Department and Department of Revenue Intelligence have pan-India presence with requisite officials posted in headquarters, various zonal and regional units to conduct actions against black money hoarders.

In National Herald Case, CBI Could Question Gandhis About Haryana Land
  • In a move that could lead to Congress bosses Rahul and Sonia Gandhi being questioned by the CBI, the agency has filed a case alleging that land for a publishing company controlled by them was illicitly allocated in Haryana when the state was governed by their party.

    CBI officials, when asked, didn't deny that the Gandhis will be questioned. "We will scrutinise the papers to see where the liability lies,'' said a senior official handling the case.

    The CBI's case is against BS Hooda, who was the Chief Minister in 2005 to return prime real estate in Panchukla, about 230 kms from Delhi, to Associated Journals. The allotment, made originally in 1982, was cancelled a decade later because the company had failed to construct the office that the land was intended for.

    Mr Hooda's reversal of that decision cost the state 62 lakhs, the CBI says. His decision to allow the publisher the land, just months after he was elected, was being investigated originally by the state's anti-corruption vigilance department; it was transferred to the CBI this week after the BJP came to power in Haryana.

    "This is vendetta and witch-hunt. Nothing wrong has been done during my tenure and in this case too, the rules were followed," the two-time former Chief Minister said to the Press Trust of India.

    When it was given the Panchkula land, Associated Journals published the National Herald, a newspaper founded by Jawaharlal Nehru before independence. The Gandhis have been taken to court by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who has accused them of cheating and criminal breach of trust by setting up a shell company called Young Indians to illegally gain control of properties worth $300 million that belonged to Associated Journals.

    In 2008, the publishing company had unpaid debt of about $15 million. Mr Swamy says Young Indians used Congress party funds to buy the debt and acquire the publisher's real estate holdings, and rented them out, earning vast profits for its shareholders, among whom the Gandhis have the most stakes.

India Signs Mega Missile Deal With Israel For 2 Billion Dollars
  • India has signed a weapons deal with Israel for nearly $2 billion in what's being described as the "largest defence contract" ever signed by the military exporting giant.

    The deal will provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said in a statement yesterday.

    The "mega" missile agreement is "considered to be the largest defense contract in Israel's defense industries' history", the company said, stressing that some components will be assembled in India, in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push to reduce reliance on costly imports.

    The Israeli firm will also supply a naval defence system including long-range surface-to-air missiles for India's first aircraft carrier, which is still under construction.

    PM Modi's government has raised the limit on foreign investment in the defence sector and encouraged tie-ups between foreign and local companies under a 'Make in India' campaign.

    India - the world's largest defence importer - has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter regional rivals China and Pakistan.

    Israel is a top weapons exporter, with sales last year surging to $ 6.5 billion. India is a top market for its arms, as New Delhi has turned increasingly away from traditional ally Russia for its military hardware.

Business Affairs 

Why petrol, diesel prices may change everyday
  • In a move that will make you check petrol, diesel prices everyday before refuelling, oil marketing companies are considering a plan that would allow daily changes in the price of automotive fuels in line with international oil prices.
    Executives  of country's biggest oil marketing company Indian Oil Corp and its two smaller peers Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum told The Economic Times that the firms are considering ways to roll out the plan to review petrol and diesel prices daily.
    The daily price change also known as dynamic fuel pricing means the companies will not wait for a fortnight to adjust the price of petrol and diesel in tandem with crude price as they do now. Instead, they will change the price everyday based on crude price movements.
    This will help India move to an international standard of fuel pricing.
    "This will cushion the companies from any loss they face due to currency and crude movements over a 15-day period and will make their margins more predictable," said Dhaval Joshi, analyst with Emkay Global Financial Services.
    The move would free private players - Essar Oil and Reliance Industries, which currently follow the price set by state-owned companies, to also shift to a dynamic model.

Sensex tanks 200 pts, Nifty closes below 9,200-mark; Sun Pharma falls 3%
  • The S&P BSE Sensex tanked 220.73 points to close at 29,706.61 while the Nifty ended the day 63.65 points to 9,198.30.
    Reliance snaps its 6-day winning streak after the order from Trai to roll back its Summer Surprise Offer. 
    Pharma stocks see a fall led by Sun Pharma (down 3.04 per cent) after USFDA conducted a surprise audit at its Dadra plant. 
    Shares of Lupin fell over 2.61 per cent on the BSE. 
    Equities slip while the Indian rupee gained in today's trade. 
    RIL contributed most to the Index fall while TCS provided support closing as the top gainer on BSE. 
    2.34 PM:
    The rupee strengthened to as much as 64.32 per dollar, its highest since August 2015.
    1.55 PM:
    Alembic Pharmaceuticals has received approval from the US health regulator for generic Fluoxetine Hydrochloride tablets used for the treatment of depression and panic disorder.
    The approval is for the generic version of Eli Lilly and Company's Prozac tablets in the same strengths, Alembic Pharma said in a BSE filing today.
    The tablets are indicated for treatment of major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder in adult and paediatric patients, it said.
    They are also indicated for treatment of binge-eating and vomiting behaviour in moderate to severe Bulimia Nervosa and acute treatment of panic disorder, in adult patients.
    "The company has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) for its abbreviated new drug application for Fluoxetine Hydrochloride tablets, 10 mg and 20 mg", it said.
    These tablets have an estimated market size of USD 120 million for 12 months ending December 2015 according to IMS, the company added.
    Alembic Pharma currently has a total of 53 ANDA approvals from the US health regulator.
    The company's stock was trading 0.84 per cent higher at Rs 625 per scrip on BSE today.
    1.08 PM:
    Hindustan Unilever likely to lay off 10-15% staff
    India's largest FMCG giant is mulling over cutting staff as a part of its parent firm Unilever's order to reduce costs across its businesses.
    Senior executives aware of the news said lay offs and reduction in hiring could be between 10 and 15 per cent, reported The Economic Times.
    According to its 2016 annual report, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) employs 18,000 people in its Indian factories and offices and has managerial staff of over 1,500. 
    1.07 PM:
    The Indian benchmark indices continued to trade in the red as continued selling by participants, tracking a weak trend in other Asian markets as US missile strike against Syria fuelled geopolitical concern, dampened sentiments.
    12.34 AM:
    The shares of Larsen and Toubro surged 1.66 per cent taking the spot of top gainer on the BSE. 
    Sun pharma and Dr Reddy's were the top laggards on the BSE Sensex, down 2.13 per cent and 1.36 per cent respectively. 
    10.04 PM:
    Indian Rupee Update
    The rupee weakened by 13 paise to 64.65 against the US dollar in early trade today at the Interbank Foreign Exchange market due to appreciation of the American currency overseas.
    Besides, a lower opening in the domestic equity market also weighed on the rupee, dealers said.
    The rupee had closed yesterday at a near 20-month high of 64.52, firming up by 35 paise against the US dollar on massive unwinding of the American currency by exporters amid buoyant growth outlook by the Reserve Bank.
    9.30 AM:
    The Indian bencmark indices opened on the lower side on Friday.
    The S&P BSE Sensex was trading at 29,823.91, down 103.43 points while the broader Nifty50 was trading at 9,228.00, 33.95 points lower.
    "As far levels are concerned, 9230 - 9200 remains to be a strong support and on the flipside, we would expect continuation of this up move towards 9400 - 9600 (price extension of previous up move from recent low of 7893.80) over the next few weeks. It is to be noted that the prudent strategy at this juncture would be to focus on individual stocks in order to fetch higher returns," said an Angel Broking report.
    BSE Midcap and BSE Smallcap fell 0.3 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively.
    Sun Pharma, RIL, Adani Ports, Power Grid and Tata Motors were the top laggards on BSE Sensex while Bharti Airtel, ONGC, Tata Steel were the top gainers.
    Sun Pharma fell nearly 1 per cent after media reports that USFDA has conducted a surprise audit at its Dadra plant.
    Reliance also shed nearly 1 per cent after the company withdrew it's three-month offer after an order from TRAI.
    On the other hand, Bharti Airtel surged 2 per cent, becoming the top gainer on Sensex.
    Adani Ports fell over 1.5 per cent after Goldman Sachs removed the company from Asia Pacific Conviction buy list and downgraded the stock to 'Neutral' and set a target price at Rs 371.
    Reliance Jio withdrew its Summer Surprise Offer afteran order by the telecom regulator.
    "Jio is in the process of fully complying with the regulator's advice, and will be withdrawing the three months' complimentary benefits of Jio Summer Surprise as soon as operationally feasible, over the next few days," according to a company statement.
    Shareholders of the company gave a green signal to the merger with Aditya Birla Nuvo.
    The shares of Grasim were 0.32 per cent lower.
    The government is going to set up high level committee to study the drug pricing policy.
    Idea to offer jackpot tariff plans to users at just Rs 100
    Stocks slumped and safe haven bonds and the yen jumped in Asia on Friday after the United States launched cruise missiles against an air base in Syria, potentially escalating the conflict and spooking investors globally.
    The response was immediate with the U.S. dollar dropping over half a yen in currency markets, while sovereign bonds, gold and oil prices rallied hard.

Banks get time till June 30 to obtain PAN from account holders
  • The tax department has given banks three more months till June 30 to obtain permanent account number (PAN) or Form-60 from all account holders as it looks to tighten the noose around evaders.
    Though the deadline for getting the PAN or Form 60 (if PAN is not available) by banks ended on February 28, the tax department on April 5 notified the extension of the time till June 30.
    In the notification, the Income Tax Department said that in Income-Tax Rules 114B, in the fourth proviso, "for the figures, letters and words '28th day of February' the figures, letters and words '30th day of June' shall be substituted."
    Rule 114B lists various transactions for which quoting PAN is mandatory.
    The tax department had in January asked banks, post offices and cooperative banks to document PAN or declaration of Form 60 received from account holders and maintain all records for transactions under Rule 114B of I-T Act.
    It had said that persons who have not quoted PAN, or did not furnish Form 60 at the time of opening account, will have to provide the same by February 28. Form 60 is a declaration form filed by an individual without PAN.
    Following the demonetisation move effective November 9, the tax department had asked banks and post offices to report to it all deposits above Rs 2.5 lakh in savings accounts and more than Rs 12.50 lakh in current accounts made between November 10 and December 30, 2016.
    Also, cash deposits exceeding Rs 50,000 in a single day had to be reported.
    With an estimated Rs 15 lakh crore in junked currency notes coming back into the banking system post demonetisation, the tax department has started analysing the bank deposit trends.

    After Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra mulls loan waive off: Here's how farm loan waivers affect the economy
    • With Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announcing loan waiver for farmers as part of his poll promise, the debate how such practices affect the Indian economy has returned to the fore. 
      Disagreeing with farm loan waivers, Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel during the first bi-monthly monetary policy statement for 2017-18 on Thursday said such waivers undermines honest credit culture, impact credit discipline.
      We look at how farm loan waivers adversely affect the economy.
      Fiscal deficit
      With the government repaying loans to banks on behalf of farmers, its expenditure books get bloated. This in turn affects the finances of the government, thus increasing its fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit is the difference between the total revenue and expenditure of the government.
      Loan disbursal process
      The repayment of loans by the government is a gradual process, with multiple checks being carried out to correctly identify and ascertain the eligibility of beneficiaries of the scheme. This leads to banks (read public sector banks) taking a hit on their loan books while they close their accounts at the year and quarter end.
      Though public sector banks can be easily arm twisted by the government to lend to definite parties, they tread a cautious approach while they give loans to farmers on fears of them going bad.
      So, the next time a defaulting farmer applies for a loan, he may face delay in sanctions, high collateral requirements, reduction of quantum of loans, lengthy and complex documentation requests, etc. 
      It's almost compulsory for banks to give loans to the farmers of a poll-bound state but the defaulters are likely to be entertained lesser, next time they knock the banks' doors for agricultural needs.
      Little incentive in repaying loans
      With the government's decision to waive off the loans, there remains very little incentive for farmers who want to pay back. When farmers already know political parties will compete for their votes promising loan waivers in the next poll campaign, they are less likely to repay loans to the banks even if they have the capacity to do the same.

      Spending on development

      The funds which could have been used to meet the long-term infrastructure and development needs of the state are diverted to repay the loans of farmers. This will affect the progress of the state which resorted to farm loan waivers.

      Call from more states for loan waiver

      After Uttar Pradesh cleared farm loan waiver for nearly 86 lakh farmers, calls have grown for a similar practice in BJP-ruled Maharashtra. While the Devendra Fadnavis  government is still studying the Uttar Pradesh model, Opposition parties-Congress and NCP-have been strongly calling for a farm loan waiver in their state too. 
      Apart from political parties raising their voice for loan waiver, farmers of different states too feel neglected when they hear about the relief given to their counterparts in a particular state. This leads to calls for loan waiver going viral and puts the state governments in a bind.

    RBI dreads recalibration: Rs 200 notes may only be available at banks, not ATMs
    • Days after image of Rs 200 note surfaced on social media, now it has emerged that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is against the circulation of proposed new bank currency through ATMs.
      According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the central bank wants to circulate the new Rs 200 banknotes only through bank branches. 
      The report quoted a senior bank official who said dispensing new currency notes through ATMs would mean recalibrating India's 220,000 machines, an exercise that will take more than a month.
      The RBI wants to avoid the recalibration process as it does not want to see the same hectic situation it faced after demonetisation. 
      Last year in November, when the Prime Minister demonetised old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the RBI took more than a month to calibrate 2 Lakh ATMs to dispense newly-minted Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes.
      "The idea is not to disturb the system once again, there has been disruption for more than four weeks between November and December and it is advisable to circulate these notes through the bank branches, though at present these are just proposals," the official said.
      According to reports, the RBI wants to circulate Rs 200 bank notes only through branch, the way Rs 50 and Rs 10 notes are circulated. 
      Earlier in March, the central bank board had cleared a proposal to introduce Rs 200 notes to minimize the shortage of lower denominations.
      According to a report by India Today, the new note is already in the pipeline and is only awaiting instructions from the central government to go ahead with the printing procedure.
      "Rs 200 currency note is in the pipeline. But, unless it is notified by the central government, making a dye (block), working on security features and printing process of Rs 200 would not take place. So this time, RBI would implement its plan only after the Centre's notification," a source told India Today.

    General Awareness

    PM Modi Lays the Foundation Stone of a Multi-Modal Terminal on River Ganga at Sahibganj in Jharkhand

    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on an official visit to Jharkhand to lays the foundation stone of a multi-modal terminal on river Ganga in Sahibganj district on April 6, 2017.In a series of tweets, PM Modi mentioned that construction of Sahibganj multi-modal terminal at Sahibganj will create business and job opportunities in Jharkhand and will particularly benefit people in rural areas.
      • Sahibganj terminal is the 2nd out of 3 multi-modal terminals to be constructed on National Waterway-1 (NW-1) from Varanasi to Haldia. In May 2016, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) had awarded the contract for the construction of a multi-modal terminal at Varanasi. The 3rd terminal is to be constructed at Haldia city in West Bengal.
      • PM Modi will also inaugurate the Govindpur-Jamtara-Dumka-Sahebganj Highway, during this visit.
      Basic Information about Sahibganj Multi-Modal Terminal:
      • Cargo handling capacity:24 Million Tons Per Annum (MTPA) on completion in year 2019
      • Estimated Cost: 280 crore. Contract for construction has been given to M/s L&T Infrastructure Ltd.
      • Facilities: Terminal buildings, berthing space for two vessels, barge loaders, shore protection works, roads, stockyard, ramps, parking area and conveyor belt system with hoppers.
      Expected benefits from Sahibganj Multi-Modal Terminal:
      • Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal at Sahibganj will provide the much needed connectivity with Bihar at Manihari. Moreover crossing of trucks through Ro-Ro facility would save a lot of time, cost, and fuel.
      • On completion, Sahibganj multi-modal terminal will provide critical last mile connectivity to remote areas of Jharkhand.
      • Multi-modal terminal along with Ro-Ro terminal is expected to create direct job opportunities for 600 people and will result in indirect employment of about 3000 people.
      • Sahibganj multi-modal terminal will facilitate the transport of domestic coal from the local mines in Rajmahal area to various thermal power plants located along National Waterway -1. Other commodities such as stone chips, sugar, fertilizers and cement will also be transported through the terminal.
      What is Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro)?
      In context of above mentioned multi-modal terminal, Roll-on/Roll-off refers to a ramp that allows wheeled vehicles, including two-wheelers, four wheelers and other heavy vehicles to roll on or to roll off the ship/vessel which has come to the terminal.
      Other Key Events during PM Modi’s Jharkhand Visit:
      At Sahibganj, PM Modi also laid the foundation stone of one of the longest river bridges on River Ganga that will connect Sahibganj to Katihar district of Bihar. This 5.8 km long 4-lane bridge will be built by National Highways Authority of India at an estimated cost of Rs 2,266 crore.
      • PM Modi also inaugurate the Govindpur-Jamtara-Dumka-Sahebganj Highway, during this visit.
      About National Waterway-1 (NW-1) from Varanasi to Haldia:
      NW-1, also referred to as Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system is being developed under the Jal Marg Vikas Project of the IWAI.
      • World Bank is providing technical and financial assistance of Rs. 5369 crore for this project. On completion, this project would enable commercial navigation of vessels with a capacity of 1500-2,000 DWT. NW-1 passes through major cities of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal and will thus benefit industries located along its stretch.
      Quick facts about Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI):
      IWAI is a statutory body responsible for regulating, developing and maintaining infrastructure for inland waterways in India.
      • Formation Year: 1986
      • Head Office: Noida, Uttar Pradesh
      • Current Chairman: Nutan Guha-Biswas
      • Receives grant from: Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways

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