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Current Affairs - 18 May 2017

General Affairs 

NASA Names Microbe Found In Space After APJ Abdul Kalam
  • India's 11th president and its most famous aerospace engineer Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has now been honoured by the NASA by naming a unique microbe found on the International Space Station after him. The microbe is called 'Solibacillus Kalamii'.

    It is no ordinary microbe. Till date it has been found only on the International Space Station and now the NASA has named it as Solibacillus Kalamii.

    Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran, scientist, jet propulsion laboratory, NASA, Los Angeles, said, "The name of the bacterium is Solibacillus Kalamii. The species name is after Dr Abdul Kalam and genus name is Solibacillus which is a spore forming bacteria." 

    The space station is home to many microbes. And this unique microbe was found on the filters of the International Space Station as it orbits the earth almost 400 kilometres above earth. 

    Dr Venkateswaran, who found the bug, is sure that it went from earth to the space station as a hitch hiker. 

    Born in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Dr Kalam distributed newspapers at one time to support his family and his education. He graduated with Physics from the Madras University, went on to study aerospace engineering. He was a key player in the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests. He became India's president in 2002.

India To Build 10 Heavy Water Nuclear Reactors, Create 33,000 Jobs
  • India will develop 10 heavy water nuclear reactors - a plan the government says will generate business worth 70,000 crores and create 33,000 jobs.

    The cabinet cleared the plan today, said Union Minister Piyush Goyal after a attending meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    For years, India had been pushing to develop indigenous technology in nuclear power. Currently the country is generating 6,780 MW nuclear power. Building capacity for another 6,700 MW is in the pipeline.

    Heavy water reactors are more efficient and get more output for the same quantity of uranium than one using normal water.

    Out of India's 20 operational nuclear reactors, 18 use heavy water, which is water composed of hydrogen isotope deuterium. But most of the reactors have lower capacity. The new reactors will generate 700 MW power each.

Triple Talaq Not Case Of Majority vs Minority: Centre To Supreme Court
  • Making its strongest pitch against triple talaq in the Supreme Court, the Centre on Wednesday contested the arguments presented before the top court to let the practice of allowing Muslim men to get instant divorce continue.

    The government's top law officer Mukul Rohatgi said triple talaq was not an essential part of Islam and it could not be allowed to continue by the court, just because it had been in practice for 1,400 years. Can anyone say that we allow human sacrifice just because it was practised earlier, Mr Rohatgi argued.

    Attorney General Rohatgi also rejected suggestions from the Muslim law board counsel Kapil Sibal that the court should adopt a hands-off approach because it would amount to the majority forcing its views on the minority community.

    "It is a tussle between haves and have-nots within the system. It is intra-community struggle between men and women because men are more resourceful, earner and educated," he said, pleading with the top court to step in and put a final end to the practice.

    Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court bench that is sitting in judgment of triple talaq on Wednesday wondered if it would be possible to give Muslim brides the option to say no to their prospective husband divorcing them by uttering the words, talaq, thrice, at the time of their marriage.

    The five-judge bench of the top court has been holding daily hearings since last week to decide if the practice of instant divorce was intrinsic to Islam and should be allowed to continue, or should be struck down. At one point, the court did observe that it was the "worst form" of dissolution of marriage
    "Is it possible that Muslim women are given an option to say 'no' to triple talaq at the time of execution of nikahnama (Islamic marriage contract)," asked Chief Justice of India JS Khehar who heads the bench that also comprises Justices Kurian Joseph, RF Nariman, UU Lalit and Abdul Nazeer.

    Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who is representing All India Muslim Personal Law Board, welcomed the suggestion. But there were questions if the Qazi, or the religious court, would be bound by the law board's directive to give brides this choice at the ground level.

    Justice Khehar, however, quickly asked the counsel to "not infer anything" from the suggestion; the court was just exploring various possibilities.

    The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which had started out yesterday defending the 1,400-year-old practice that it insisted was a matter of faith, did concede towards the end of the day, that it was admittedly an undesirable practice but the community should take the first step.

    In court on Wednesday, Mr Sibal pulled out a resolution passed by the board that called triple talaq a sin and asked the community to boycott the person who invokes it. He, however, urged the court not to intervene in the practice, saying triple talaq had been made out to be something as if "every member of the community wakes up in the morning and does it (divorces his wife)".

In Silicon Valley Bengaluru, Many ATMs Closed, Trying To Fix It, Say Officials
  • Hundreds of ATMs across India's tech hub remained shut for the second day due to possible virus attack by WannaCry ransomware and cash crunch, said a bank official on Tuesday.

    "Ransomware attack appears to be causing glitches at many ATMs that work on Random Access Memory (RAM). Old ATMs are affected by the malware," State Bank of India Officers' Association Secretary General R. Ramesh said.

    New Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) with Microsoft's Windows 10, however, were not affected by the ransomware.

    Cash crunch at treasury offices of state-run banks also forced the security staff to display 'No Cash' or 'Out of Order' signboards at their ATMs across the city and shut them from operating.

    "My mother returned from an SBI ATM without drawing cash as it remained shut with 'No Cash' sign board on the machine," lamented S. Ramya, a college student.

    Of the 18,000 ATMs across Karnataka, about 10,000 are in Bengaluru alone.

    "Our engineers are trying to fix the problem so that ATMs could resume dispensing cash from Wednesday," said Mr Ramesh.

    All-India Bank Officers Confederation Secretary S.K. Srinivas said the auto-shutdown of ATMs would be rectified soon.

    "There is enough cash with the banks for withdrawals through the counters. Customers need not worry about their security of their money," reiterated Mr Srinivas.

    Bank officials, however advised customers to avoid online transactions till further notice due to uncertainty over the impact of ransomware on internet banking.

Second Major Search Operation In Jammu And Kashmir's Shopian, Over 500 Houses Searched
  • A massive search operation involving around 1,000 security personnel was launched in Jammu and Kashmir's Shopian in the early hours today after reports of terrorists in a village.

    The anti-terror ops that began at 3 am in Heff Shirmal village have ended. The army, police and Central Reserve Police Force or CRPF launched a joint operation after information that terrorists were hiding in the village believed to be a hotbed of militancy.

    "Over 500 houses were searched. It was already planned that cordon-and-search operation will be completed before 10 am," the police said.

    This is the second major cordon-and-search operation in Shopian in south Kashmir in the last 15 days and the first after the killing of a young Kashmiri army officer Ummer Fayaz. Lieutenant Fayaz was kidnapped from a family wedding last week and killed. His body was found in Shopian. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley is to travel to the Kashmir Valley today to review the security situation.

    Earlier this month, after a series of attacks and videos showing large groups of terrorists moving freely in the area, a massive security operation was launched.

    More than 3,000 personnel of the Army, Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu and Kashmir police were involved in the operation to search over two dozen villages, orchards and forest areas.

    A number of videos have surfaced showing large groups of heavily-armed terrorists marching in the orchards of Shopian.

    Around 100 local young men are suspected to have joined militancy after the unrest triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in July last year.

Business Affairs 

IIP, WPI base year adjustment can totally change way GDP is measured, but India needs data collections overhaul
  • India's Central Statistical Office (CSO) is working hard to modernise India's data collection methods and also the way it calculates various economic indices. A couple of years ago, it had changed the way GDP was calculated.
    Recently, it has changed both the base year and the composition of both the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) as well as the wholesale price index (WPI). The base year for both indices were changed to 2011-12, against the 2004-05 earlier. Both were sorely needed because other indices (including the GDP and consumer price index (CPI) had already started using 2011-12 as the base year). Also, a number of goods that had no relevance were changed in the IIP, while adding new goods which make more sense. Ditto for the WPI, which has seen a change in its basket of goods.
    The changes to IIP and WPI could further affect the GDP calculations, though the immediate impact is hard to gauge. What we do know is that once the Goods & Services Tax (GST) starts rolling, there will be even more data available, and that might further lead to changes in the way GDP is calculated. In fact, it could completely change the way GDP is measured in the country, as there will be a seamless, near real-time data available on goods and services supplied and sold. There is also the plan to replace the IIP eventually with a new index that measures services as well, and not merely manufacturing , mining and electricity production.
    The CSO's efforts are to make most indices more in line with what developed nations around the world measure. These were much needed.
    The CSO revisions have raised some controversy - especially the GDP calculations because the back series is not being published and because it bumped up growth in the immediate past. But what is important is that the new method tries to capture more data and more relevant data.
    However, there are other areas where our statistics - both the collection methods as well as the calculation methodology - needs drastic overhaul. These are crucial areas such as jobs created, number of unemployed and under employed, farmer incomes etc.
    Take job creation data for example. What we currently get is a patchwork of data, which does not in any way reflect the real picture. For example, the  ministry of labour comes out with a quarterly survey of jobs created/jobs lost, but that covers all of 8 sectors, and is fairly limited in its scope. It doesn't capture the other, fast growing sectors or even fully represent the services sector, which constitutes the biggest chunk of the economy. It also does not capture the labour movements in the informal sector, which is estimated to account for over 70 per cent of the total employed. National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data on employment is more indepth and presents a far more comprehensive picture - but it is five years out of date in most cases. Between the survey and the time the data is turned into a report, multiple things change and therefore the NSSO data is not great for policy making when jobs fluctuate not just year to year, but also season to season.
    Ditto of other economic and socio economic data. The prime minister talked of doubling farmer's incomes within five years recently. The problem is that no one is quite clear what should be taken as the current income levels for the average farmer given that the latest data is of 2013-14.The NSSO also surveys a number of other important things, including spending patterns and consumption habits of the poor etc which could be of crucial help for policy making only if the data did not come out so late.
    What is needed is for a total overhaul of India's data collection and analysis methods. Luckily, the rapid advances of technology could make both surveying (using mobile applications etc for capturing data etc) and analysing data quicker much more feasible. What we need is robust data on all sorts of subjects from a reliable source - from jobs being created, to taxes being paid, houses being built, production of different industries etc. And for that, the way we have traditionally collected and collated data needs total rethink.

Job cuts in IT sector: Campus placements at IITs decline in 2016-17
  • Finding a well-paying job for graduates of India's premier engineering institues, the IITs, has always been a cakewalk. However, amid protectionist policies in the US and other countries, the decades old trend of placements has shown a decline this year.
    According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the data sent by IITs to the human resource development (HRD) ministry revealed only 66 per cent of students who appeared for campus recruitment got a job offer in 2016-17, as against 79 per cent in 2015-16 and 78 per cent in 2014-15.
    If one goes by the official data sent to the human resource development (HRD) ministry, out of 9,104 student in 17 IITs who appeared for placements this year, only 6,013 were placed, it said.
    "We could have potentially done better, we were not able to get as many companies due to political uncertainties in the state. Companies that were to come to campus fulfilled their requirements with other institutions," said Manu Santhanam, placement advisor at IIT Madras.
    "Recruitment by PSUs through GATE scores has increased over these years and many of those recruited are from IITs. These numbers won't reflect in the campus recruitment numbers. We need to add these too before coming to conclusions on employment opportunities for IIT students. We, therefore, feel that the employment scene is not really going down for IITs," the HT report quoted an official from the human resource development ministry.
    The decline in placements at India's premier engineering colleges is seen as a possible outcome of various disruptions globally, including protectionist steps taken by countries like United States and Australia.
    It's not just fewer recruitments, executive search firm Head Hunters India on Monday said the job cuts in IT sector will be between 1.75 lakh and 2 lakh annually for next three years due to under-preparedness in adapting to newer technologies.
    "Contrary to media reports of 56,000 IT professionals to lose jobs this year, the actual job cuts will be between 1.75 lakh and 2 lakh per year in next three years, due to under-preparedness in adapting to newer technologies," Head Hunters India Founder-Chairman and MD K Lakshmikanth said.

Reliance Jio pushes Mukesh Ambani to No. 1 spot in Forbes' list of global gamechangers
  • The launch of Reliance Jio late last year has catapulted Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani to the top spot on the Forbes Global Gamechangers list. Forbes acknowledged Ambani and Reliance Jio's achievement of getting 100 million users in a record time and changing the telecom landscape in the country.
    Forbes described the entrepreneurs in the list as "intrepid business leaders" who were "unsatisfied with the status quo."
    "Bringing the internet to India's masses. Oil and gas tycoon entered the country's telecom market with a bang, offering fast internet at dirt-cheap prices. Gained 100 million customers in six months and set off a wave of consolidation in the market," Forbes said.
    Ambani  has invested heavily to build a digital platform for his telecom broadband business under Reliance Jio. In the past five years, RIL's investment has exceeded the company's cumulative investment of 35 years.
    "For me, Jio is a mission to enable each one of you to live and experience Digital Life in all its destiny-reshaping possibilities. Jio provides opportunities for every Indian to prosper and live a better life," Ambani had said on March 31.
    "Anything and everything that can go digital is going digital. India cannot afford to be left behind," Forbes quoted Ambani as saying.
    Apart from Jio launch, Ambani also saw success in overtaking Tata Group's TCS and turning Reliance Industries into the most valued stock on BSE this April. The performance of Jio changed the pecking order in the market, according to industry experts.
    Others in the Forbes list of global gamechangers included founder of home appliances company Dyson, James Dyson, American global investment management corporation BlackRock cofounder Larry Fink, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, social media company Snap cofounder Evan Spiegel, Chinese ride sharing giant Didi Chuxing founder Cheng Wei and African retail tycoon Christo Wiese.

    Sensex, Nifty likely to sustain bull run on macro data, FIIs, DIIs, rupee rally and more
    • Indian stock markets are scaling fresh highs. The benchmark index Sensex closed at a fresh all-time high of 30,582.6 on Tuesday. The stock market has scaled up around 15 per cent year-till-date. "The biggest factor is that India is becoming the brightest spot on investments charts globally on account of GDP growth and easing inflation. Secondly, the domestic consumer market is doing well primarily on account of lower interest rates and there is liquidity in the market," say Nikhil Khandelwal, MD, Systematix Shares.  
      Both domestic and foreign institutional investors have been keeping faith in this rising market. Mutual funds have invested Rs 20,868.4 crore since January 2017. Foreign portfolio investors, who turned net sellers in January, have been buying since then and have invested Rs 43,616 crore till date.
      Positive domestic macro-economic data has cheered the markets. Investors' sentiments are buoyed by official data released last week -- wholesale price index (WPI) and consumer price index (CPI) -- which showed that inflation eased in April.
      According to analysts, appreciation of the rupee against the US dollar also supported the equity markets.
      No major event has the potential to disrupt the market rally in the near-term. Khandelwal believes, the corporate earnings till now have matched expectations and companies have registered good volume growth. Although the impact of monsoon is always over-rated but how it plays out remains to be seen. Going forward, analysts are also mindful of the impact of implementation of the Goods and Services Tax on the economy.

    Travel queries grew by 53% during February-April 2017: Google
    • With the ongoing summer break, Google India today revealed that the overall travel related queries went up by 53 per cent during February-April, compared to the same period last year.
      Overall travel related queries including planning, transport, accommodation, vacation packages and travel documentation witnessed a 53 per cent year-on-year growth (February-April), Google Search Trends revealed in a survey.
      The surge in vacation queries began in February, indicating that more number of Indians are now planning for summer holidays earlier in the year, it added.
      The travel search trends is based on searches conducted by Indians between the months of February to April this year.
      With increasingly affordable travel and stay options, interest in holiday travel is consistently growing beyond the metros as there was 70 per cent growth in travel queries from non-metro cities over the past year, it said.
      Google search data also showed that 40.80 per cent of all travel related queries were emerging from cities and towns beyond Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.
      The growing use of mobile devices has made it more flexible for travellers to research, plan their itinerary and choose their favourite destination from any where and at any time, it said.
      The survey also revealed that this year there was a growing interest in 'Alternate Stays', which surged by 111 per cent from last year.
      Further, 'destination activities' also witnessed 102 per cent growth, it added.
      Within India, while Goa continued to be the most preferred destination, hill stations like Manali, Shimla in Himachal Pradesh and Ooty in Tamil Nadu also made it to the top 10 destinations list, it said.
      This summer, Andaman and Nicobar Islands saw a boom in popularity with 39.8 per cent growth, said the survey.
      It said, among international destinations, the US continued to be the most preferred followed by UAE and Thailand.
      Interestingly, the survey found that, among the countries that have witnessed high growth are Nepal (64.8 per cent), Indonesia (42.1 per cent) and Bhutan (40.8 per cent).
      In terms of mode of travel, rail services emerged as the most searched witnessing a 56 per cent growth, it said.
      The quantum of search queries for rail services was nearly twice as high as the combined searches for all other modes of travel including air, bus, taxi, and car rentals, the survey said.

    General Awareness

    India’s GDP Growth Forecast for 2017 Revised Downward by UN

    • As per United Nations’ “World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid- 2017” report, India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth forecast for FY 2017 has been revised downwards to 7.3% as compared to 7.7% projection made in January 2017.
      • However, GDP growth forecast for FY 2018 has been revised upwards to 7.9% as compared to 7.6% projection made in January 2017.
      Highlights of “World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid- 2017” Report:
      • The report mentioned that stressed balance sheets in Indian banking sector, will restrict the restoration of investment cycle in the country.
      • Sound fiscal and monetary policies as well as implementation of major domestic reforms have helped in containing the sudden impact of demonetisation.
      • Even though India’s growth forecast has been revised downwards, it still remains fastest growing large developing economy.
      • Overall, global economy is expected to grow by 2.7% in 2017 and 2.9% in 2018.
      • Chinese economy is projected to grow at 5% in 2017 and 2018.
      • Current account deficits in India, Brazil and South Africa narrowed significantly, whereas many countries including Russia have gone through remarkable corporate deleveraging.
      • The report has outlined recovery in global industrial production; along with revival in global trade on account of rising import demand from East Asia.
      • East and South Asian region has been identified as world’s most dynamic region which is driving global economic recovery.
      • Least developed countries (LDCs) are expected to register 2% and 5.5% growth in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
      “World Economic Situation and Prospects Report” is a joint product of following entities:
      • United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA)
      • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
      • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
      • Five United Nations Economic Regional Commissions – Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia& Pacific and Western Asia

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