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Current Affairs - 01 May 2017

General Affairs 

No Deals To Be Signed During PM Narendra Modi's Visit, Says Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi would only attend the UN 'Vesak Day' celebrations and no bilateral agreements will be signed during his visit to Sri Lanka next week, Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has said. "No agreements will be signed during Prime Minister Modi's visit. I am aware that disinformation is being spread on social media on Prime Minister Modi's visit," President Sirisena said yesterday.

    He said PM Modi is visiting the country only to take part in the celebrations marking the UN 'Vesak Day', which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.

    PM Modi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka next week to take part in the celebrations to be held in Colombo from May 12 to 14 to mark the Vesak event. "I appeal to people not to be misled by false stories that India would acquire areas in our country through agreements," President Sirisena said, amid reservations among Lankans over the proposed deal with India to jointly operate the strategic oil storage facility at Trincomalee port.

    Workers of Sri Lanka's state-run petroleum company last week held a strike to protest the proposed deal with India to jointly operate the strategic oil facility.

    The Sri Lankan government has announced plans to strike a deal for a joint venture with India to develop the World War II oil tanks.

From 2024 Hold Lok Sabha Elections, Assembly Polls Simultaneously: NITI Aayog
  • The NITI Aayog has suggested a synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and assembly polls from 2024 so as to ensure minimum 'campaign-mode' disruption to governance. Outlining the details, the policy think-tank has said implementing the proposal may necessitate "a maximum one-time curtailment or extension of some state assemblies".

    It has made the Election Commission the nodal agency to look into the suggestion and recommended setting up of a working group of stakeholders for deciding a road-map for synchronised elections.

    A report in this regard need to be finalised within six months and final blue-print will be ready by next March, as per draft three-year action agenda for 2017-18 to 2019-20. The draft report was circulated among the Governing Council members (consisting of chief ministers of all states and others) of the NITI Aayog on April 23.

    The recommendation assumes significance as President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have pitched for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls.

    "All elections in India should happen in a free, fair and synchronised manner so as to cause minimum 'campaign-mode' disruption to governance. We may begin work towards switching to a synchronised two-phase election from the 2024 election to the Lok Sabha," the NITI Aayog draft report says.

    This would require a maximum one-time curtailment or extension of some state assemblies, it said.

    "To implement this in the national interest, a focused group of stakeholders comprising constitution and subject matter experts, think-tanks, government officials and representatives of various political parties should be formed to work out appropriate implementation-related details.

    "This may include drafting appropriate Constitution and statutory amendments, agreeing on a workable framework to facilitate transition to simultaneous elections, developing a stakeholder communication plan and various operational details," the draft report says.

    President Mukherjee in his speech on the eve of this year's Republic Day had favoured holding Lok Sabha and assembly elections together. "The time is also ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after Independence when elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties," President Mukherjee had said.

    PM Modi had in February made a strong pitch for simultaneous elections. "It (simultaneous polls) will cause some loss to all, including us," he had said, and asked political parties to not look at the idea through narrow the prism of politics.

    "One party or a government cannot do it. We will have to find a way together," he had said.

    Elections are being held all the time somewhere or else in the country and continuous elections lead to lot of expenditure, PM Modi had said replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address.

    The prime minister had said over Rs. 1,100 crore was spent in holding the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the expenditure shot up to Rs. 4,000 crore in 2014.

    He had said that over a crore government employees, including a lot of teachers, are involved in electoral process and the continuous exercise thus causes maximum harm to the education sector.

    Security forces also have to be diverted for electoral works across the year even while enemy country keeps plotting against the nation and terrorism remains a strong threat, PM Modi had said.

BHIM App: Young People Should Take Advantage Of Reward Scheme, Says PM Modi
  • As part of his push for digital payments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today asked the youth to capitalise on a scheme that entails cash rewards for those encouraging others to use the government's Bharat Interface for Money or BHIM App for transactions. He said the scheme is valid till October 14 and the youngsters can benefit monetarily from this.
    "Friends, the government of India has provided you a good opportunity. The new generation is almost getting free of cash transactions. The new generation does not need cash. The new generation believes in digital payments," PM Modi said in his monthly radio programme 'Mann Ki Baat'.

    He said since the youngsters are already making digital transactions, they could also make an earning while doing so under a scheme of the government of India.

    Under the scheme, a person can earn Rs. 10 every time he or she introduces BHIM to another person and that person undertakes three digital transactions.

    "If you make 20 people to do it in a day, you can earn Rs. 200 that day," the Prime Minister said, adding it will contribute to the efforts towards 'Digital India'.

    He also asked the students to utilise the upcoming summer vacations for learning new skills and even go for "out-of- the-box" things like taking lessons in auto driving, picking up some words from other Indian languages and finding about other places which they may intend to visit.

Ban On Red Beacons Aimed At Ending VIP Culture Mindset: PM Narendra Modi
  • The decision to get rid of red beacons is aimed at removing the VIP culture from the mindset of certain people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today and added that the concept should be replaced with "EPI", meaning "Every Person is Important".

    A day before the government decision on red beacons comes into effect, he underlined that all the 125 crore people of the country have equal value and importance.

    "I did not know that people have so much contempt for the VIP culture before we took the decision recently banning use of red beacons on vehicles of ministers and others," he said in his monthly radio programme 'Mann Ki Baat'.

    He said the red beacon had become a symbol of VIP culture which had creeped the mindset of those using it.

    "Experience shows that though the red beacon would be used atop a vehicle, gradually the VIP culture would go to the head of those using it and it would lead to a mindset of VIP culture. Although the 'lal batti' is gone now, nobody can claim that because of this, the VIP culture which has gone into the mindset would have also gone," PM Modi said.

    He said getting rid of the red beacon was an administrative decision but efforts have to be made to remove the VIP culture from the mindset also.

    "If we all make concerted efforts jointly, this also can go (from the mindset)," he added.

    The Prime Minister said his government's concept of 'New India' is that instead of 'VIP', importance to 'EPI' culture should increase.

    "When I say EPI instead of VIP, the meaning is clear -- Every Person is Important. Every person has value and importance. If we recognise the importance of 123 crore citizens of the country, imagine the big strength that the country will have in fulfilling the grand dreams. We all have to do it together," he said.

With 235-Crore Satellite, PM Narendra Modi Extends 'Sab Ka Saath' Idea To SAARC
  • On May 5, the skies above the island of Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal will light up with the launch of India's giant Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket on its 11th mission as it lifts off with what is being billed as "a message of peace like never before".

    The nearly 50m-tall rocket that weighs about 412 tons will carry what has been dubbed the 'South Asia Satellite' or what the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) prefers to call GSAT-9. The 2,230-kg communications satellite has been built in three years at a cost of Rs. 235 crore.

    But what makes the satellite unique is that it will have a footprint that extends all over South Asia and will mark an unprecedented journey of India into "space diplomacy". The Rs. 450 crore project will be a "gift" for the country's South Asian neighbours, say officials in India's foreign ministry.

    "Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi has actually extended his slogan 'Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas' (development for all) to India's neighbourhood essentially to service the needs of the poor in South Asia," said Prashant Agarwal, an IIT Kanpur-trained engineer and the go-to person in the Ministry of External Affairs for the initiative.

    Sources say the project was dropped as a surprise on ISRO as just four weeks into office, PM Modi asked India's space scientists to "take up the challenge of developing a SAARC satellite" that he wanted to "dedicate to our neighbourhood as a gift from India".

    The South Asia Satellite has 12 Ku-band transponders which India's neighbours can utilise to bolster their communication capabilities. Each country will get access to at least one transponder through which they could beam their own telecommunication and broadcast programming. According to India, these will find use in areas such as just satellite television, very small aperture terminals (VSATs), tele-education, telemedicine and disaster management.

    India has also said it will extend assistance to each country that will have to develop its own ground infrastructure for using the satellite.

    India's most hostile neighbour Pakistan however has fully opted out of the project. Rest of the countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC are already on-board.  While Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have joined the mission, Afghanistan is still to sign the paperwork with some minor technical details still to be worked out. 

    Among India's neighbours, three nations already possess full-fledged communication satellites. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have their satellites built with help from China; Afghanistan also uses an old India-made satellite acquired from Europe.

    Bangladesh is likely to have its first bird in the sky later this year made with help from French company Thales. Nepal has already floated a tender to acquire two communications satellites. Experts say the tiny nations of Bhutan and Maldives that may stand to gain the most from the project.

    Observers say the South Asia Satellite India is an active effort by New Delhi to counter China's growing influence on its neighbours. But in the 21st-century Asian space race, China already has the first mover advantage.

    Indian officials say it is better late than never and will certainly earn New Delhi praise from the world's powers for this one-of-a-kind confidence-building measure.

Business Affairs 

Indians need not worry much about visa restrictions: Cabinet Secretary
  • Indians "need not worry too much" about tightening of visa regime by developed economies as they will have ample opportunities in the country itself, Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha said today.
    The comment assumes significance as it comes at a time when the US administration is reviewing the rules of the H-1B visa programme, and its adverse impact on the Indian IT companies.
    Sinha said there is a growing realisation even amongst the developed countries that the employment opportunities should go to the 'sons of the soil'.
    "We are seeing that one country after another is putting visa restrictions, so that the local population benefits from the opportunities of employment," Sinha said at a CII event.
    However, he observed that "we need not worry too much about the visa restrictions as we will have ample opportunities here itself".
    The Cabinet Secretary pointed out that there is a growing feeling that the recent global political developments are likely to reverse the process of globalisation.
    However, he said, this need not be seen as something that is threatening the future of globalisation itself.
    "There may be some restrictions on movement of manpower from one country to another but the imperatives of global movement of goods and services will remain," Sinha said.
    He noted that just as within any country everything cannot be produced in one region and many things have to come from other regions, at the global level the movement of goods and services will remain a necessity.
    "It would be an extremely sub-optimal economic state if restrictions are imposed on the movement of goods and services across countries," Sinha said.
    Moreover, he said, given the fact that the demand is not likely to increase considerably in the developed countries, they have to look towards the developing countries and therefore globalisation would survive.
    The Cabinet Secretary said that for India to take a lead in the process of globalisation, its industry will need to ensure that the quality of goods manufactured are better than any other country in the world.
    "To facilitate this, the government is trying to create the right ecosystem and the business environment within the country," Sinha said.
    US President Donald Trump had signed an executive order earlier this month for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its 'abuse', a decision that would impact India's USD 150 billion IT industry.
    The Indian IT industry had expressed serious concerns over this as these visas were mainly used by domestic IT professionals for short-term work in the US.
    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 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.

Govt wants Apple to consider new policy for local manufacturing
  • The government wants iPhone maker Apple to consider a new manufacturing scheme offering duty benefits to set up its plants in the country.
    "Apple had asked for a set of concessions. For a period of 15 years all the components that Apple imports, they want them to be free of duty. We have a phased manufacturing programme (PMP) because we want more and more value addition to come to the country. We want them to understand how this PMP will work and how they can dove tail into that," Ministry of Electronics and IT Secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters on Saturday.
    She was speaking on the sidelines of the annual session of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
    IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has approved PMP and the government set to notify it.
    "Right now the value addition is minimal. We want to take it up. For that purpose we have just announced phased manufacturing programme for mobile phones," Sundararajan said.
    According to Indian Cellular Association, the PMP is expected to increase local value addition in mobile phone manufacturing to increase to 39-50 per cent in next 3 years.
    Under PMP, the government has already imposed additional duty on import of mobile charger, battery pack and wired headset in 2016-17.
    In 2017-18, key components like mobile microphone and receiver, USB Cable, key pads will attract duty benefits.
    Components like camera module, mobile antenna etc will be given incentives or duty benefit in 2018-19 if procured locally by handset makers.
    Mobile phone makers will get benefit of tax or incentives on the touch panels, mobile screen, vibrator motor or ringer from 2019-20 onwards under the program.
    The phased manufacturing programme was proposed by a joint panel of the industry and the government - Fast Track Task Force. The panel set up under the MeitY has set target of 500 million handset production by 2019 and export target of 120 million mobile phones by 2019-20, taking annual manufacturing output in the range of Rs 1.5-3 lakh crore.
    In 2016-17, total value of mobile phone to be produced in India is likely to reach Rs 90,000 crore from Rs 54,000 crore in 2015-16.

Global med-tech firms, India locked in tussle after stent price sting
  • A group of global medical-technology companies plans to tell Indian officials next month that any further price control measures would risk future investments and make them less likely to introduce new products in the country, according to an industry source familiar with the matter.
    The lobbying effort by Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson and others comes after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February set a price cap for stents - small wire-mesh structures used to treat blocked arteries - slashing prices that patients pay for some devices by about 75 percent.
    That has sparked a growing showdown between the companies and Modi's government in India, where the "med-tech" sector is worth $5 billion. Abbott and Medtronic filed for withdrawal of some of their stents from India, but the government on Wednesday rejected their request, saying it contravened the nation's drug laws.
    Modi has in recent years taken a more aggressive stance against multinational healthcare companies, announcing price curbs on drugs used to treat critical ailments such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes.
    At a public event this month, the prime minister said patient interests were more important than "unhappy" companies.
    The firms, meanwhile, worry price controls could extend to other devices such as implants or valves, making it economically unviable for them to sell next-generation products in India, industry sources said.
    Executives from Abbott, Medtronic and Boston Scientific - which all sell coronary stents in India - along with Johnson & Johnson and others, plan to approach India's health and trade ministries in May to convey that "price control is not the way forward", according to an India executive at a multinational med-tech company aware of the plans.
    "There is a lot of nervousness," the executive said.
    Johnson & Johnson, for example, is worried about potential price curbs on its imported knee, joint or hip implants, another industry source said, adding the company was working with trade groups to write letters to the government.
    Boston Scientific said it was engaging with the government and would abide by regulations.
    Medtronic said it intended to again file a plea for withdrawing one of its stents. Abbott said it was speaking with the government to file for withdrawing two stents and would look at reintroducing them if they became "commercially viable".
    Johnson & Johnson declined to comment.
    Another industry source aware of companies' strategies said the withdrawal pleas were aimed at sending a "strong signal" to the government by disrupting access.
    None of the companies commented on planned government meetings or broader industry worries.
    National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) Chairman Bhupendra Singh on Thursday sought to calm industry concerns, saying the authority was in the process of collecting price information for 23 devices but "as of now there is no proposal to cap the prices".
    Singh, whose agency is the government's drug pricing regulator, declined to comment on industry jitters or lobbying efforts.
    The domestic medical device market in India is expected to grow by 15 percent annually between 2014 and 2020 to $8.6 billion, according to a joint report by consultants Deloitte and Healthcare Federation of India, NATHEALTH.
    Rana Mehta, leader of healthcare at consultants PwC India, said many firms had started re-evaluating their India strategy.
    "This uncertainty might be detrimental to the growth of the industry," said Mehta, who advises several multinational med-tech companies.
    Abbott and the Medical Technology Association of India, which counts Boston Scientific among its members, have in the past fallen short with their lobbying efforts in New Delhi, according to documents seen by Reuters.
    In letters written to the government departments of health and pharmaceuticals during August and September, they appealed to Indian officials to have a more liberal approach on stent pricing and not treat all stent devices as the same, submitting dozens of pages of research papers and clinical studies in support.
    Abbott wrote this would "encourage" medical device innovation.
    But the pricing regulator NPPA ruled against their requests.
    In February, it termed stents as "essential" devices, noting cases of heart disease were rising and the stent pricing was "restrictive and exorbitant". It did not differentiate among types of drug-releasing stents as the industry desired.
    The price cap was set at 7,260 rupees ($113) for the older generation metal variants and 29,600 rupees ($461) for drug-releasing variants.
    Abbott said it was "disappointed" with the decision. An executive at the Medical Technology Association said different types of drug-releasing stents should be treated differently.
    Activists have lauded the government's action on stent pricing, saying reduced prices would benefit the masses.
    "The government intervention is expected to end exploitation of patients," health activist K.M.Gopakumar said.
    But some in the healthcare industry disagree.
    "Considering affordability is important but not at the cost of putting brakes on the evolving technology that is so essential to ensure patients' well-being," said Shirish Hiremath, president of the Cardiologist Society of India.

    India aiming for all electric car fleet by 2030, say goodbye to petrol and diesel cars
    • India is looking at having an all-electric car fleet by 2030 with an express objective of lowering the fuel import bill and running cost of vehicles.
      "We are going to introduce electric vehicles in a very big way. We are going to make electric vehicles self- sufficient like UJALA. The idea is that by 2030, not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold in the country," Power minister Piyush Goyal said while addressing the CII Annual Session 2017.
      Goyal is of the view that initially the government can handhold the electric vehicle industry for 2-3 years to help it stabilise.
      Citing the example of Maruti, which has logged over 30 per cent profit this time, he explained that the government had supported India's largest car maker initially, which eventually led to development of the big automotive industry in the country.
      Goyal told reporters later that the Ministry of Heavy Industries and the NITI Aayog are working on a policy for promotion of electric vehicles.
      The minister pointed to the cost factor, saying people would like to buy electric vehicle when they find it cost effective.
      About offshore wind projects, Goyal said these are more like an R&D project. The minister suggested that big PSUs, including NTPC, can initially invest in such projects that will lead to development of this segment in coming years.
      Goyal said that in the last 3 years, India's energy consumption has grown by about 6.5 per cent CAGR (compounded annual growth rate), more than the figure for the last 10 years.
      He said, "Through UJALA, the LED distribution programme, we have already seen about 500 million LED bulbs sold in the last two years. My job is to improve India's energy efficiency to reduce consumption wherever it is wasteful and ensure that demand is met fully."
      He made a point that UDAY has not been just about financial re-engineering but financial discipline. The UDAY scheme is meant for revival of debt stressed discoms.

    Haryana govt increases dearness allowance to 136 per cent of the pay

    • The Haryana government has raised the dearness allowance (DA) to 136 per cent of the pay with effect from January 1, 2017, for its employees.
      "The Haryana government has decided that the rate of dearness allowance admissible to employees who continue to draw their pay in the pre-revised pay band/grade as per the 6th Pay Commission, has been enhanced from the existing rate of 132 per cent to 136 per cent of the pay with effect from January 1, 2017," an official spokesman said.
      The additional installment of DA will be paid in cash to all such government employees with the salary for the month of April to be paid in May.
      The payment of arrears of enhanced dearness allowance from January 2017 to March 2017 will be made in the month of May 2017, he added
      In another notification, the government has decided that the rate of dearness allowance admissible to employees who continue to draw their pay as per the 5th Pay Commission, has been enhanced from the existing rate of 245 per cent to 256 of the pay with effect from July 1, 2016 and existing rate of 256 per cent to 264 per cent of the pay with effect from January 1, 2017. 
      The additional installment of DA will be paid in cash to all such government employees with the salary for the month of April to be paid in May. The payment of arrears of enhanced dearness allowance from July 2016 to March 2017 will be made in the month of May 2017, he added.

    General Awareness

    Vice President Hamid Ansari’s five days visit to Armenia & Poland

    • India’s Vice President Hamid Ansari was on an official visit to Armenia and Poland from 24-28 April, 2017. During these visits, he held talks with leaders of the two countries and attended several events. This was his first visit to Armenia and Poland.
      India signs three agreements with Armenia
      In Armenia, Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari held extensive talks with the top leaders including President Serzh Sargsyan, Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. After the talks, India signed three agreements with Armenia in the field of cultural co-operation, youth affairs and peaceful use of outer space.
      • Talks were also held for establishing connectivity through direct flights between India and Armenia, liberalising visa regime for improving people-to-people contact and enhancing cooperation in agriculture sector.
      • Under agreement for peaceful use of outer space, India will train Armenian scientists and will help in building satellite and remote sensing data matters.
      • It is to be noted that India and Armenia are having diplomatic relations since 25 years.
      Quick Facts about Armenia:
      • Capital: Yerevan
      • Currency: Armenian Dram
      • Neighbouring Countries: Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran
      India, Poland ink pact on agriculture
      On April 27, 2017, following formal talks between Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari and Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, India and Poland signed an agreement on the exchange of information and technology in the agriculture sector. From the Indian side, the agreement was signed by Minister of State of Small Industries Giriraj Singh.
      • The two countries are keen to explore possibilities of collaboration in fields of mining, solar energy, food processing, solid waste management, and civil aviation.
      • During his visit to Poland, Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari also met Polish President Andrzej Duda.
      Poland supports India’s Permanent membership at UNSC
      During Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s Poland visit, Polish leadership reiterated its support to India’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) issue and a permanent seat in the expanded UN Security Council.
      • NSG is a group of nuclear supplier countries which are jointly working to restrict nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipments and technology required for manufacturing nuclear weapons. Currently, 48 countries, including Poland are members of NSG.
      • While addressing the media in Poland, Vice President Ansari thanked Polish leadership for its support to India. He also mentioned that as a part of India-Poland cultural cooperation, Indian festivals will be celebrated in various cities of Poland.
      Quick Facts about Poland:
      • Capital: Warsaw
      • Currency: Polish Zloty
      • Neighbouring Countries: Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine

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