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Current Affairs - 19 May 2017

General Affairs 

Quality Of Water In Major Rivers Across UP Not As Per Norms: Government Audit
  • The water quality of major rivers and water bodies in Uttar Pradesh is not as per the norms and the main reason for this is inadequate sewage and industrial effluent treatment facilities in the state, a CAG report said.

    The audit report on the economic sector for 2015-16 laid out in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly said the malfunctioning of existing treatment facilities was also responsible for the poor quality of water.

    The UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) failed to take appropriate action against the defaulters like municipal authorities and industries, the report said.

    UPPCB monitors the pollution level in rivers and water bodies of the state by collecting samples once every month and the audit analysed the reports of 12 major rivers and six water bodies.

    The BOD (bio-chemical oxygen demand) level and total coliform (which included bacteria that are found in the soil in water that has been influenced by surface water and in human or animal waste) are above the prescribed standard in 12 major rivers and six water bodies for the years 2013-15, the report said.

    The BOD and total coliform levels in Kali and Hindon exceeded the permissible limits, the report said, adding that major source of pollution in the Ganga river was discharge of untreated or partially treated sewage, open drains carrying sewage and industrial waste. The audit also found that the water quality in the river was not healthy.

    The water quality of Gomti was also not within the prescribed standards and the main reason for pollution in the river was sewage generation in Lucknow being much higher than the total capacity of the two STPs (sewage treatment plants), the report pointed out.

PM Modi Thanks Sushma Swaraj After UN Court Verdict On Kulbhushan Jadhav
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed satisfaction today at the interim verdict of the International Court of Justice putting on hold Pakistan's death sentence for Kulbhushan Jadhav. He spoke to Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and thanked her, also appreciating the efforts of senior advocate Harish Salve who argued India's case versus Pakistan at the world court in The Hague, news agency PTI has reported. 

    The court has asked Pakistan to ensure that Mr Jadhav, 47, is not hanged till it gives a final verdict in his case

    In a series of tweets, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said the order comes as "a great relief to the family of Kulbhushan Jadhav and people of India," and promised "that under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi we will leave no stone unturned" to save the former navy officer.

    Her senior colleague in the union cabinet M Venkaiah Naidu said it was a "major victory for India" and that the world court staying Mr Jadhav's execution "has exposed Pakistan". A military court in Pakistan had last month sentenced Mr Jadhav to death alleging that he is a spy. He was arrested on March 2016 and Pakistani officials claimed he had confessed to spying for Indian intelligence services.

    Harish Salve had, in an emergency hearing on Monday, requested the United Nation's top court to order Islamabad to suspend Mr Jadhav's execution. He said India feared that Pakistan may execute Mr Jadhav even before the court decided on its appeal, accusing Pakistan of "egregious violations of the Vienna convention" by denying him access to legal counsel and consular access, and refusing to reveal the charges or evidence against him.

    Pakistan denied that Mr Jadhav's execution was imminent, arguing that there was no urgency in the case. 

    The court today said Pakistan has "given no assurances" that Jadhav would not be executed before the court delivered its final decision and therefore it is "satisfied there is an urgency in this case."

India, Singapore Navies Begin Mega Exercise In South China Sea
  • Navies of India and Singapore today began a seven-day-long mega maritime exercise in the South China Sea which has been witnessing a growing Chinese assertiveness.

    Four warships of the Indian Navy and long range anti-submarine warfare aircraft P-8l are participating in the SIMBEX (Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise), which is aimed at increasing interoperability between the two navies.

    A diverse range of operational activities at sea have been planned during the course of the exercise.

    "The thrust of exercises at sea this year would be on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), integrated operations with surface, air and sub-surface forces, air defence and surface encounter exercises," Navy Spokesperson Capt D K Sharma said.

    A number of warships of Singapore Navy are participating in the exercise along with maritime patrol aircraft Fokker F50 and F-16 aircraft.

Tamil Nadu Agrees For Talks On Water-Sharing Pact, Says Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
  • Tamil Nadu has agreed for talks on reviewing the water sharing agreement under the Parabikulam-Aliyar project or PAP, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the state assembly today.

    The neighbouring state has responded "positively" to a letter written by Mr Vijayan to his counterpart, K. Palaniswami, seeking discussion on PAP.

    "The state government recently sent a letter to the Tamil Nadu chief minister seeking discussion over the issue. And now, the neighbouring state has agreed for a discussion. This is a positive development," Mr Vijayan said.

    However, he said the "violation" of agreement by Tamil Nadu on release of water under the PAP to Kerala is "continuing". But, at the same time, due to the Kerala government's repeated and effective intervention, "the state received more quantity of water during this water year than what it got in earlier times," Mr Vijayan said.

    Mr Vijayan said the Central government had said at a recent meeting of the National Water Development Authority or NWDA that any final decision on linking of Pampa-Achakovil with Vypar river in Tamil Nadu would be taken only after Kerala's consent.

    Mr Vijayan was replying to a notice seeking adjournment motion by the Congress-led United Democratic Front or UDF over closure of the state government's Cauvery cell, which was functioning at Kerala House in New Delhi.

    Mr Vijayan said it was only related to official work deployment. "It will not affect any of the pending inter-state water dispute cases including Mullaperiyar, Cauvery water sharing, Neyyar and so on in Supreme Court cases," Mr Vijayan said.

    Rejecting opposition UDF charges that the decision to close the two-decade-old cell was "mysterious" and had some "ulterior motives", the Kerala chief minister said a new committee has been formed under the chairmanship of former water resources secretary VJ Kurien with technical experts as members.

    Besides this, two nodal officers in law and irrigation departments have been appointed for effective coordination to handle cases and ensure technical support. "What the government has done is to form a new mechanism to deal effectively with the inter-state water dispute cases," Mr Vijayan said.

    Seeking notice for a debate on the matter, former water resources minister and Congress leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan said the closure of the water cell, which offered technical support to deal with cases of inter-state water disputes, was suspected to be under the influence of some "external force".

    As the Speaker denied the opposition's demand for a discussion on the issue, the opposition members staged a walkout from the assembly. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the closure had caused concern about the future conduct of the water dispute cases.

    However, he said the opposition was not against shifting any non-performing officers and staff. But the closure of the water cell, which played a key role in the inter-state water dispute cases, was not "justifiable", Mr Chennithala said.

    In the letter, Mr Vijayan had asked Tamil Nadu to release water under the PAP agreement to tide over drinking water shortage in northern Palakkad district, which is facing an acute drought.

Many Nations Pin Climate Hopes On India, China As Hopes For Donald Trump Fade
  • Many countries are pinning their hopes on India and China to lead efforts to slow climate change amid a growing sense of resignation that US President Donald Trump will either withdraw from a global pact or stay and play a minimal role.

    Delegates at the May 8-18 negotiations in Bonn on a detailed "rule book" for the 2015 Paris Agreement, the first UN talks since Trump took office, say there is less foreboding than when Washington last broke with global climate efforts in 2001.

    Trump doubts global warming has a human cause and says he will decide on a campaign threat to "cancel" the Paris Agreement, the first to bind all nations to set goals to curb emissions, after a group of Seven summit in Italy on May 26-27.

    "The time when one big player could affect the whole game is past," said Ronald Jumeau, climate ambassador for the Seychelles. 

    "There would be a void without the US, but China and India seem to be increasing their effort."

    Big emitters led by China, the European Union and India have reaffirmed their commitment to Paris, which seeks to phase out greenhouse gas emissions this century by shifting to clean energies. By contrast, Trump wants to favour US coal.

    Many delegates note that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a forerunner to the Paris Agreement which obliged only rich nations to cut emissions, survived after ex-President George W. Bush decided in 2001 against taking part, albeit in a weakened form.

    "We have a good lesson from the Kyoto Protocol. We moved on without the U.S.," said Gebru Jember Endalew of Ethiopia, who chairs the 48-nation group of least developed nations that are among those at risk from more heatwaves, floods and rising seas.

    "We are seeing new leaders" among emerging economies, he said.


    Still, the Paris Agreement, designed by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, would be hit by Washington withdrawing, especially if billions of dollars in US-led finance to help developing nations were to dry up, delegates say.

    "It risks a corrosive effect on global ambition," said Elliot Diringer of the US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

    In 2001, Bush said cuts in emissions under Kyoto, which had been signed by the Clinton administration, would drain jobs from the United States and that Kyoto wrongly omitted targets for China and India to cut emissions.

    Now, however, China and India are on track to over-achieve on their Paris goals for limiting their rising greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, making up for less US ambition, according to a Climate Action Tracker (CAT) report compiled by European researchers.

    "Rollbacks by President Trump are unlikely to have a major impact on global emissions by 2030," it said, projecting that China and India would rely less heavily than expected on coal.

    Trump's pro-coal policies could lead to a flattening of US emissions in coming years after a fall of 11.5 per cent in the past decade, it said. And falling prices for solar and wind power make clean energies ever more attractive.

    "You have to have the US on board ultimately" to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement, said Bill Hare, a CAT author at Climate Analytics. "But if there's a hiatus for four years it doesn't mean it's the end of the game."

    Among the uncertainties for the Paris Agreement is Russia, the only major emitter that has not yet formally ratified the pact. So far, 146 countries have ratified it.

    "We support the Paris Agreement and we plan to address the issue of ratification when we have a clear picture of how the entire landscape stands," Russia's chief delegate Oleg Shamanov said. He noted that Moscow helped save the 1997 Kyoto pact by ratifying, in 2004.

Business Affairs 

Day 1 of GST Council meet ends with tax rates fixed for 80-90% goods, services
  • The first day of 14th GST Council meet to decide fitment of commodities in various tax slabs under the Goods and Services Tax concluded in Srinagar's Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC).
    On the first day, the GST Council categorised 80 to 90 per cent goods and services under the four tax slabs stipulated under the GST Act. Essential commodities have been placed in the lowest tax bracket, that is five per cent. Rates close to the exisiting incidence of excise duty coupled with VAT or service tax has been considered to be the rate under GST.
    The key GST Council meet saw the presence of finance ministers of 29 states and three union territories who will hold the final deliberations on the biggest tax reform since independence, the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
    The venue of the GST Council meet was chosen months ago when J&K Finance Minister Haseed Drabu hosted a lunch feast for state finance ministers and delegates in Delhi. The 12-course meal, which included a wide array of Kashmiri Wazwan delicacies helped the GST Council members break the ice and build consensus over sticky GST issues.
    Chaired by Arun Jaitley and the meet was attended by around 150 dignitaries, including Finance Ministers and Finance Secretaries of all the states.
    The choice of the venue for this all important two-day meet is being viewed as a political statement by the government as it comes in the backdrop of a restive Valley, marked by violence and protests in recent months.
    The GST Council had earlier agreed on a four-tier tax structure -- 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent -- along with a cess on luxury and demerit goods such as tobacco, pan masala and aerated drinks. The cess will be used to compensate the states for revenue loss arising out of the GST implementation in first five years.
    The rates fixed during the meet in Srinagar will be charged from July 1, the scheduled date for rollout of GST which is India's biggest tax overhaul since independence.
    The GST will be a national sales tax that will be levied on consumption of goods or use of services. It will replace 16 current levies -- seven central taxes like excise duty and service tax and nine state taxes like VAT and entertainment tax -- thereby creating India as one market with one tax rate
    Jaitley had earlier this month expressed confidence of the GST Council arriving at tax rates in the May 18-19 meeting.
    According to state police officials,  around 1,000 security personnel have been pressed into service for sanitising the conference venue and the hotels the officials will be staying. Another 400 men will be deployed for the security of the delegates.
    The GST is a destination-based single tax on the supply of goods and services from the manufacturer to the consumer and is one indirect tax for the entire country
    The fitment committee comprising central and state officials has worked out fitment of these taxes on various goods and services and the report will be placed before the GST Council at its May 18-19 meeting
    Tax rate which is closest to the present incidence of tax on a good or service will be chosen with a view to keeping the shift from the present regime of excise duty plus VAT or service tax to GST regime neutral for consumers
    The tax rates will be decided in a fashion to keep their impact on inflation as well as revenues to the government near neutral.
    Officials said that basic services which are at present exempt from service tax would be kept out of the GST as the Centre does not want to give any shock to people in the first year of GST rollout
    Currently, there are 17 items in the negative list of services on which service tax is not levied. On top of that there are over 60 services, like religious pilgrimage, healthcare, education, skill development, journalistic activities, which are exempt from service tax
    As per estimates, the GST is expected to shore up government revenue and spur economic growth by 1-2 percentage points
    In April, the Lok Sabha had passed Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill. The historic tax reform came a step closer to meet its July 1 target of rollout, with the Lok Sabha approving four supplementary legislations. The legislations were passed after negation of a host of amendments moved by the opposition parties.
    The Lok Sabha had passed Central GST, Integrated GST Bills, Union Territory GST and the GST (Compensation to the States) Bill 2017

SIPs draw new faith to mutual funds: Investments as small as Rs 500 can help reach financial goals
  • Systematic Investment Plans (SIPs) have long existed. However, they have only recently turned eyeballs. The number of SIPs in the Mutual Fund Sector has more than doubled in the past three years. From 51.96 lakh SIPs in 2014, the number has surged to 1.28 crore as of March 2017.
    The collection from SIPs which stood at Rs 1,206 crore monthly in 2014, recorded Rs 3,989 crore for the month of March this year. In the past one year, there has been a massive jump in the growth of SIPs and its registrations. In a most recent news, SIP inflows for the month of April 2017 hit an all time high of Rs 4,200 crore crossing a 1 crore-mark in number of SIP accounts, according to the data from the Association of Mutual Funds in India (Amfi)
    All this can be attributed to the rally in the equity markets that have lifted investor confidence.
    So what's all the fuss about SIPs?
    SIP is a systemic way of investing money in mutual fund schemes. An investor can make periodical payments over a stipulated timeline in order to accumulate wealth over long run.  Investments can be as low as Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs, 150, Rs 500 and can be invested daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly. The main rationale behind SIPs is to allow the investor to participate in the equity markets systematically instead of making one-time, bulk investments which may not be feasible for many. According to HDFC Securities, the idea behind starting a SIP in equity schemes is to go on investing for the long run despite market conditions in order to make money in the long term. Here's why:
    1. Rupee cost averaging
    According to the rupee cost averaging approach, an investor has the power to buy more units when the prices are low and less units when the prices are high. This is characteristic of every investor for a stock market. However, market forecasting is uncertain and anything can cause a rally or a downturn. Hence, the rupee cost averaging feature of the SIP can ease out the average cost per UNIT over time, even if the investor does not pull out when the market is bearish, thereby increasing profits as and when the cycle turns and the market rises - just like the status of the Indian markets currently.
    However, this won't completely negate risks if you decide to sell when the market is at a low. Premature exits could impact your portfolio returns. The key point to keep in mind is to continue to invest through periods of low price levels to achieve the benefits of rupee cost averaging and reduce risks.
    2. Power of compounding
    The power of compounding allows your investments to yield multi-fold. The money you make off of an investment can be reinvestment to make even more gains than your initial investment. Substantiating with an example, say you've invested Rs 10,000 which makes a 10 per cent interest annually. This fetches you Rs 1,000 in interest.
    However, in the second year you will make Rs 1,100 because not only your initial investment of Rs 10,000 accrue interest, but the additional Rs 1,000 that you made in the first year yields you money. In the 10th year, you will make Rs 2,358 and in the 30th year you will stand to make Rs 15, 864 - All this without making a further investment beyond the initial Rs 10,000. This reiterates the first point of staying invested longer to reap higher returns.
    SIPs can be used to achieve your financial goals like meeting funds for a child's education, expenses for a marriage and to even create a corpus for a secured retirement life. However, it is advised to start early on to minimise the investment amount needed to achieve your goals. Currently, in the present market scenario, analysts are bullish on equity oriented Mutual Fund schemes through SIPs.
    "We are optimistic about the Indian market. Still, we believe market could go further high backed by several fundamentals like stable government, GST rollout, good monsoon and better than expected corporate earnings for the Q4," says Abnish Kumar Sudhanshu, Director & Research Head, Amrapali Adaya Trading & Investments.
    "We are likely to see better returns in the equity market. And also we have witnessed huge fund buying in the past , which has also supported the benchmark indices to touch new highs up recent. Following the above statement, we advise equity investment is the suitable choice," Abnish adds.
    When asked on whether to invest in debt or equity, considering the bullish trend in the markets, Deepak Jasani, Head of Retail Research, HDFC securities says, "This depends on the current asset allocation of the investor and the intended allocation based on his risk return profile. SIP in equity can be initiated at anytime. In fact if it is started at high levels and then markets fall, the investor would benefit out of lower average entry prices.

SoftBank opens up wallet for Paytm; infuses Rs 9,000 crore
  • Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has pumped in USD 1.4 billion (over Rs 9,079 crore) in Indian digital payments platform, Paytm, marking the largest fund infusion by a single investor in an Indian start-up.
    This is Softbanks largest investment in a single company in India. While both the companies have declined to comment on the valuation, market watchers say that the deal values Paytm at about USD 8 billion.
    The funding will help Paytm expand fast its soon-to-be launched payments bank operations as well as grow its user base and introduce more financial products for consumers.
    SoftBank joins Alibaba and its payments affiliate Ant Financial as amongst the largest investors in One97 Communications which operates Paytm. Interestingly, SoftBank was an early investor in Alibaba.
    "In line with the Indian governments vision to promote digital inclusion, we are committed to transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of Indian consumers and merchants by providing them digital access to a broad array of financial services, including mobile payments," SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO, Masayoshi Son said.
    SoftBank has committed investment of over USD 10 billion in the Indian market. While it has pumped in close to USD 2 billion into Indian startups like Snapdeal and Ola in last few years, it has also written off a significant portion of that on account of loss in valuation.
    The fund infusion in Paytm comes at a time when SoftBank is working on a sale plan of e-commerce firm Snapdeal. SoftBank is the largest shareholder in Snapdeal, which is locked in an intense battle with Amazon India and Flipkart.
    Flipkart - which is in talks to buy Snapdeal - had raised a similar amount last month, although from three investors Tencent, eBay and Microsoft. It was dubbed the largest capital raised in the Indian internet sector.
    Paytm has been one of the prominent beneficiaries of the governments move to scrap high denomination notes. Paytm has seen manifold growth in transactions on its platform as well as expansion in number of users.
    Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said: "This investment by Softbank and support of the incredible entrepreneur Masayoshi Son is a great endorsement of our teams execution and vision."
    The company plans to invest Rs 10,000 crore over the next three to five years to enable half a billion Indians to join the mainstream economy, the statement said.
    Paytm offers mobile wallet (over 220 million users) and e-commerce services and will launch its payments bank operations from May 23. It had raised USD 60 million from Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek last year. 

    Income Tax dept publishes names of Delhi defaulters owing over Rs 10 crore in taxes
    • The Income Tax department today published names of five entities owing over Rs 10 crore in taxes, as part of its strategy to name and shame big defaulters.
      In an advertisement issued in leading national dailies, the department brought out the list of defaulters of income tax and corporate tax even as it advised them to pay their "tax arrears immediately".
      The department has begun this exercise of naming and shaming I-T defaulters since the last few years and had named at least 96 such entities which have huge tax liabilities on them and have either gone non-traceable or have shown no assets for recovery.
      The latest list has names of five such alleged defaulters, based in Delhi.
      A senior official said the public list, with details of the individual or entity like their PAN card number (in certain cases), last known address and assessment range and defaulted amount of tax, is also aimed to make aware the people at large so that they can inform the department in case they have some inputs against them.
      "The entries in the list are specific to the tax arrears and assessment year mentioned. The tax defaulter's address, business, shareholding and management may have changed," the notice issued by the Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (New Delhi) said.
      The total taxes due by these five defaulters is Rs 10.27 crore, the notice said.
      The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), the policy- making body of the tax department, had few years back adopted the strategy of bringing out the names of chronic defaulters in public domain and had also begun posting these names on its official website.

    Market ends in the red: Sensex dives 224 pts, Nifty cracks below 9,500
    • Taking a breather after a record- setting spree, benchmark Sensex plunged 224 points today to retreat from lifetime highs as investors booked profits amid global volatility.
      The Sensex retreated from record, ended 223.98 points lower at 30,434.79 while Nifty falls 96.30 points to 9,429.45.
      The 30-share index stayed in the negative zone throughout the session and hit a low of 30,393.72, before settling at 30,434.79, down 223.98 points or 0.73 per cent.
      Likewise, the 50-scrip NSE barometer Nifty slipped from its all-time high to finish at 9,429.45, down 96.30 points, or 1.01 per cent.

    General Awareness

    Railway station survey – Andhra’s Visakhapatnam cleanest, Bihar’s Darbhanga dirtiest

    • As per the report of a survey carried out by the Quality Council of IndiaVisakhapatnam railway station in Andhra Pradesh has been adjudged as the cleanest, whereas Darbhanga railway station in Bihar is the dirtiest among busiest stations in India.
      • The report of the survey was released by Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on May 17, 2017.
      Categorisation of Railway Stations in India:
      • Indian railways has about 8000 stations. Based on annual passenger revenue, the stations have been classified into seven categories viz. A1, A, B, C, D, E and F.
      • ‘A-1’ stations are the ones which contribute more than Rs 50 crore a year in passenger revenue. The stations which contribute between Rs 6 crore and Rs 50 crore as annual passenger revenue are considered to be ‘A’ category stations.
      • All suburban stations are in ‘C’ category, while all halts are in ‘F’ category.
      About Railway Station Survey:
      The survey was conducted for total 407 stations, which included 75 in the ‘A-1’ category (also referred to as busiest stations) and 332 stations in ‘A’ category.
      • This was the 3rd such survey aimed at ascertaining cleanliness at rail premises. The survey is a part of ‘Swachh Rail’ campaign.
      • Clean tracks, clean toilets at platforms and availability of dustbins at stations were some of the criteria for judging cleanliness at railway stations.
      Highlights of Railway Station Survey:
      • Among ‘A-1’ category stations, Visakhapatnam topped the survey, followed by Secunderabad railway station at second positions and Jammu railway station at third position.
      • New Delhi station ranked 39th out of 75 ‘A-1’ category stations.
      • Railway station in PM Modi’s Lok Sabha Constituency Varanasi, ranked at 14th position.
      • Among ‘A’ category stationsBeas railway station in Punjab has been adjudged as the cleanest, whereas Jogbani railway station in Bihar is the dirtiest.
      • Very soon railways will conduct a similar cleanliness survey of 200 trains.

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