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Current Affairs - 24 May 2017

General Affairs 

Election Commission Invites All Recognised Parties For EVM (Voting Machine) Challenge
  • The Election Commission has invited all the seven national and 49 state parties to participate in the challenge to prove that its EVMs can be tampered with.

    Earlier, the commission had said that it would invite all the national and state recognised parties which had contested the recent assembly polls. Some of these parties had alleged that the EVMs were tampered with.

    Now, the poll panel has sent letters to all the seven national parties -- the BJP, the BSP, the Congress, the CPI, the CPI-M, the NCP and the TMC -- and 49 state parties, including the AAP.

    The BSP and the AAP were the first to question the reliability of the EVMs. The BSP, along with several other parties, had urged the commission to revert to the paper ballot system saying the faith of the people has eroded in the machines.

    As the AIADMK now has two factions recognised by the poll panel, both have been invited for the challenge.

    But the commission has kept out smaller registered but unrecognised parties and independent candidates who contested polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur.

    Each party will get four EVMs of their choice from the five states and four hours to hack. Each team can have a maximum of three persons. But foreign experts have been barred from participating.

Border Security Force, Pakistan Rangers Hold Commander-Level Meeting On Border
  • The BSF and the Pakistan Rangers today held a commander-level flag meeting at the International Border (IB) and expressed a commitment to each other to maintain peace and tranquility at the border.

    Signficantly, the paramilitary forces of the two countries tasked to guard the International Border held the meeting in Suchetgarh sector on a day the Indian Army said it had destroyed some Pakistani posts at the Line of Control (LoC) in Naushera sector.

    BSF spokesman said the Commandant-Wing Commander level flat meeting was held at 11.30 am at the request of the Pakistan Rangers.

    During the meeting, the commanders of the two forces "discussed various issues including recent unprovoked firing in Arnia Sector and other routine issues related to border management," he said.

    It was decided to re-energize instant communication between field commanders, whenever required, to resolve the petty matters, he said.

    "The meeting was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere and both sides agreed for expeditious implementation of the decisions taken in the earlier meeting and committed to each other to maintain peace and tranquility at International Border," the spokesman said.

Pakistan Asks UN Court For Early Hearing On Kulbhushan Jadhav: Report
  • In the face of criticism back home for its handling of India's appeal at the United Nations court, Pakistan has asked the International Court of Justice to hold early hearings in the case of Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav sentenced to death last month for espionage, a Pakistan newspaper has reported.

    The world court had last week ordered Islamabad to stay Mr Jadhav's execution pending a decision on India's request. This was an interim ruling, aimed at ensuring that the 47-year-old former naval officer wasn't executed before the case before the international court was decided. New Delhi had earlier this month approached the court against Mr Jadhav's death sentence handed out after what India called a "farcical trial" by Pakistan's military court.

    Mr Jadhav, who had started a business after a career in the Navy, was in Iran in connection with his business when he had gone missing in March 2016. He, according to the government, surfaced in custody of Pakistan security agencies in Baluchistan from where he was formally arrested, accused of being a spy.

    Back in Islamabad, the Nawaz Sharif government had been facing brickbats from the opposition for its inability to convince the international court at The Hague in Netherlands. Last week the Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz vowed to take the case to its logical conclusion.

    Mr Aziz has insisted that the world court does not have the jurisdiction to hear the case since Islamabad had, in view of the Jadhav case, barred the court from hearing any case that impinges on Pakistani "national security". The court had rejected this view in its preliminary decision.

    On Tuesday, The Express Tribune, cited sources in Pakistan's Foreign Office, reported that the government has sent a letter to the international court's registrar to request a quick hearing, preferably over the next few weeks.

    But before the hearings begin, Pakistan will have nominate an ad-hoc judge to international court. India already has a judge, Justice Dalveer Bhandari on the bench since 2012.

    When the hearings at the UN court begin, Pakistani media reports have suggested that the government would also send Attorney-General Ashtar Ausaf Ali to face the Indian team led by former solicitor general Harish Salve.

    The Express Tribune report also an unnamed official in the attorney-general's office as saying that Pakistan was in no hurry to execute Mr Jadhav.  On Monday, the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, earlier known as the North-West Frontier Province that has Peshawar as its capital, passed a resolution calling for Mr Jadhav's immediate execution.

India Is A 'Guru' And We Are Followers: Dalai Lama
  • Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama today said deprivation of social justice in the name of caste was due to feudal systems that exist in our societies, and it has nothing to do with religion.

    Calling himself the messenger of ancient Indian values and knowledge, the Dalai Lama said, "India is a guru and we are chelas (followers), we are reliable chelas, because we have preserved your ancient knowledge."

    "I also consider myself as the son of India as every part of my brain cells are filled with ancient Indian knowledge and my body is because of Indian rice and dal."

    Deprivation from social justice in the name of caste was not from religion, but it was from existing societal systems like feudal system, the Dalai Lama said speaking at the state level seminar on 'Social Justice and Dr BR Ambedkar' in Bengaluru.

    He said culturally it was a negative aspect that exists in our society and it must be removed. Even in the name of religion and religious systems, there were some feudal practices and "it should not be there".

    Stating that through education caste related injustice could be wiped out, the Dalai Lama said through education the sense of inferiority feeling that was present in certain sections of the people must be wiped out.

    " that there is a sense of equality, so that they  can build self confidence. Through self confidence, hard work and education once can achieve equality," he said.

    On ancient Indian values and knowledge, the Dalai Lama said it must be revived in the country, as "it is not ancient, but most relevant".

    He said ancient Indian knowledge and values along with modern technology can do great for the country as one can  attain mental comfort with ancient knowledge and physical  comfort through modern knowledge.

    "...ancient knowledge and values side by side with  modern science is worthy for the society," he said.

    Noting that everybody wants to be happy and they have that right, he said, "if we consider rest of the humanity as brothers and sisters, there is no chance for exploitation.

    Buddha dharma is Indian dharma as most of its teachings and knowledge came from the country, he said pointing out that ancient Indian values like karuna and ahimsa had reached millions of people across the world with the spread of Buddhism.

    Pointing out like in many other religions, Buddhism had also different philosophies originating from different schools of thought, he said, "we need different philosophical views."Wonderful people with great teachings have come form from diverse faith and philosophical backgrounds, but with a common message of love and compassion, as also good 'karma.'

    "Any activity which brings happiness is a positive karma and that makes uncomfortable is negative karma," he added.

    Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge participated in the seminar organised by the Social Justice Department of Karnataka government to commemorate Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary.

Massive Fire Assault On Pakistan Posts To Check Infiltration, Says Army, Releasing Video
  • In a strong message globally, the Indian Army today released a video of a massive fire assault on a Pakistani post to underscore that it would destroy locations across the border actively aiding infiltration by terrorists. 

    In the dramatic video, loud explosions are heard and thick smoke rises as a Pakistani post is hit with heavy firepower from India including bunker busting guns, rocket launchers and anti-tank guided missiles, automated Grenade Launchers and recoilless guns.

    Sources say the video is from May 9.

    "As part of our counter-terrorism operations, punitive fire assaults across the Line of Control are being undertaken by the Indian Army," said Major General Ashok Narula, an army spokesperson.

    "The Pakistan Army has been providing support to armed infiltrators by engaging our forward troops from their weapon emplacements and pill-boxes closer to the Line of Control. At times they have not even hesitated to target villages in the proximity of Line of Control. As part of our counter-terrorism strategy and to ensure that infiltration is curbed and initiative remains with us, the Indian Army proactively dominates Line of Control." He said there was damage to the Pak army posts. 

    Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said the government supports the action. 

    "The Army is taking preemptive and measured actions to counter terrorism in valley and disengage Pakistani posts across LoC supporting infiltration," he asserted.

    India's action comes in the middle of national anger over terror attacks on army camps, the recent mutilation of two soldiers by Pakistanis and the brutal killing of a young Kashmiri army officer.  

    The army's message is loud and clear, said experts - if Pakistan tries to push in infiltrators, India will take firm action.

    Pakistan put out a swift - and expected - denial. 

    "Indian claims of destroying Pakistani post along LOC in Naushera Sec and firing by Pak Army on civilians across LOC are false," said Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of the Pakistan army.

    Sources have drawn a clear distinction between this and the surgical strikes of last September, in which Indian soldiers went across the Line of Control and targeted staging areas for terrorists about to strike India.

    In this case, they claim, Indian soldiers fired from their side of the border. 

    Last year, the surgical strikes were seen as a response to the attack on the army camp in Uri in which 19 soldiers were killed.

Business Affairs 

Get ready for a pre-GST sale as companies prepare to sell-off existing stock before July 1
  • Barely a week after the GST Council announced the tax rates for a host of products, it has emerged that the several fast moving consumer goods or FMCG companies are offering major discounts to sell-off their inventories before the new tax rates are effective. The newly-announced GST rates will be launched from July 1.
    According to a report in the Economic Times, FMCG majors like Dabur, HUL, and Wipro are offering huge discounts to retailers. The move has come to avoid a situation where they may have to deal with two different prices for the same products as under the upcoming GST regime some of the FMCG products' prices will come down as their tax rates have been slashed by 4 to 6 per cent.
    The GST Council on May 18 decided that commonly used products like hair oil, soaps and toothpaste will be charged with a single national sales tax of 18 per cent. Currently, these items attract 22-24 per cent tax incidence through a combination of central and state government levies.
    Sensing short-term disruption in implementing the GST, Dabur chief executive Sunil Duggal told the ET: "We cannot manage and evaluate inventory across millions of outlets in the pre-GST and post-GST scenario. It will be too complex since rates are different across different products."
    Dabur is not alone in pushing-out the existing stock, other FMCG companies like HUL and Wipro have also increased wholesalers' margin to clear the existing products. The ET report suggests that the retailers are cautious in increasing their stocks as they fear about the same double-pricing problem that they will have to deal with.
    However, market experts believe that there could be a retailer-level schemes that would be passed on to customers as we get closer the GST date.

Steel homes under PM Awas Yojna for just Rs 2 lakh: Govt
  • Strong affordable homes made of steel can easily be built at a nominal Rs 2 lakh under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY), Union Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh said today.
    The National Steel Policy (NSP) not only envisages enhanced 300 million tonne (MT) steel capacity in the country, but also stresses the need for increased consumption and this calls for diversification and maximum use of the alloy in projects, the steel minister said while addressing media on three years initiatives and achievements of his ministry here.
    "The allocation under PMAY is Rs 1.5 lakh, while the same for hilly states is Rs 1.6 lakh. Ministry of Rural Development assures tie ups with banks for Rs 70,000 and this way the allocation will be over Rs 2 lakh. Homes primarily using steel could easily be made for Rs 2 lakh under it," Singh said.
    He said these homes will not only enhance the steel consumption in the country and augment infrastructure, but will also be extra strong and durable.
    "These homes will not only be cost-effective but quick to construct. We saw houses in Gangtok and deliberated also that if we use steel structures that can enhance their durability," the minister said.
    Steel Secretary Aruna Sharma, on the sidelines, said that Chattishgarh government has agreed to such a proposal and talks were also on with other states and bodies as this will be a viable proposition.
    The minister said that stress was given on maximum use of steel in infrastructure projects and talks were on with primarily ministries of Railways, Shipping, Highways, Rural Development and Urban Development.
    "Railways Ministry will now be sourcing 12 lakh tonnes of steel as against previous 8 lakh tonnes and the biggest rail in the world - 260 metre - is being constructed at Bhilai," the minister said.
    Singh said India aims to take its steel production capacity to 300 MT by 2030-31 at a cost of Rs 10 lakh crore besides taking the per capita steel consumption to 158 kgs.
    During the last three years, per capita consumption has increased to 65 kgs from 59.3 kg, he said. The global per capita consumption at present is 204 kg.
    The minister said a slew of steps have been taken to enhance and protect domestic consumption that include periodical review of production and pellatisation from slurry and sludge to cut on huge import bills on coking coal and steelmakers import 80 per cent of their coking coal requirement.
    He also said PSU and other bodies will use meade in India steel worth over Rs 50 crore on the lines of melt and made policy in the US and if imported they will have to do value addition.

IT employees to form union in times of rampant layoffs
  • A forum of IT workers is all set to get itself registered as the first union of techies in the country, amid reports of large scale layoffs by IT companies. "The Forum for Information Technology Employees (FITE) will be getting itself registered formally as the first union for IT employees in India," forums vice-president Vasumathi said. "We are expecting this to happen within next five months," Vasumathi told PTI in an interview.
    The move has come following "illegal termination" of employees by the major IT companies in the country. The FITE, a group of IT employees, have been in the thick of action since 2008 when it kicked off a protest to bring attention to the state of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The forum has over 1,000 online members and around 100 active members. It has opened chapters in nine cities, including Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai, Kochi and Delhi.
    The group has waged various battles for IT employees who were indiscriminately sacked by various companies in the past. Calls for formation of an IT employee union gathered momentum after reports of large scale layoffs by several IT companies in view of toughening stance of developed nations on work visas and increasing automation in the industry. Executive search firm Head Hunters India had said that the job cuts in IT sector would be between 1.75 lakh and 2 lakh annually in the next three years due to under- preparedness in adapting to newer technologies.
    A McKinsey & Company report had said nearly half of the workforce in the IT services firms will be "irrelevant" over the next 3-4 years. McKinsey India Managing Director Noshir Kaka had also said the bigger challenge ahead for the industry will be to re-train 50-60 per cent of the workforce as there will be a significant shift in technologies.
    The industry employs 3.9 million people and the majority of them have to be re-trained. On Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar statement that IT sector should be revising the skill set every now and then to keep up with the emerging technologies, Vasumathi said it does not mean sending experienced employees home, without notice.
    "The IT employees, also know the need to learn continuously and grow with the organisation. It is the responsibility of employers to foresee the change in technological trend and re-skill the employees accordingly," she said. The IT companies are laying off employees with profit motive and are using appraisal process to shield themselves and quoting "poor performance" to terminate employees, Vasumathi alleged. Vasumathi also said job cuts may increase the profit margins temporarily, but would damage the industry in the long run. Jayaprakash, another FITE member, said according to the Industrial Disputes Act, the IT companies do not have any right to dismiss employees when they are earning profits.
    Layoffs are usually carried out by companies when they suffer losses, but the Industrial Disputes Act states that the laid off employees should be given first preference after the company attains financial stability and earns profits, Jayaprakash said. Flaying companies for calling laying off of 10-20 experienced workforce as "trimming the extra fat", he said, "They do not realise that each and every employee has a family to support."

    RBI refuses to disclose list of loan defaulters
    • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has refused to make public the list of loan defaulters with public sector banks despite an order of the Supreme Court in 2015 to make this information public.
      The case relates to an RTI application filed by activist Subhash Agrawal who had sought to know the list of people who had defaulted in the loan of Rs one crore and above.
      According to the government, the gross non-performing assets (NPA) of the public sector banks stood at Rs 6.06 lakh crore as on December 31, 2016.
      The RBI had denied the information citing the clauses of economic interests of the state, the commercial confidence and the information held in fiduciary capacity.
      It had also cited the provisions of Section 45-E of the RBI Act, 1934 which prohibits disclosure of credit information.
      On December 16, 2015 the apex court had clearly rejected these arguments of the RBI, in a matter filed by another RTI applicant, and ordered disclosure of defaulters' list, upholding a Central Information Commission (CIC) order.
      Still, the Bankers' Bank cited same arguments to deny information to Agrawal, who escalated the matter to the CIC.
      During the hearing, the RBI also said the Supreme Court is hearing a matter in which reports have been sought in a sealed envelop and hence any decision should be avoided.
      A two-member CIC bench gave reprieve to the RBI as it agreed to not pass any order till the pending matter, where disclosure of defaulters having dues of over Rs 500 crore towards the banks, was decided by the apex court.
      The bench, comprising Information Commissioners Manjula Prasher and Sudhir Bhargava, did not accept Agarwal's plea that a case was already decided by the Supreme Court in which clear directives have been given and is a law of land, and not a pending case.
      In 2015, the apex court had stated that the RBI is supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks.
      The RBI is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank, it had said.
      "The RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the public at large, the depositors, the country's economy and the banking sector," it had said while directing the RBI to disclose the list of defaulters.
      The court had said that the RBI is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act.
      "The baseless and unsubstantiated argument of the RBI that the disclosure would hurt the economic interest of the country is totally misconceived," the court had said.
      The apex court had said that the facts reveal that banks were trying to cover up their underhand actions, they are even more liable to be subjected to public scrutiny.
      It had passed the order of disclosure after hearing the arguments of the RBI which had sought refuge under the Section 45E of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 which says disclosure of any information relating to credit information submitted by banking company is confidential.
      It had said the RTI Act, 2005 is a general provision which cannot override specific provisions relating to confidentiality in earlier legislation in accordance with the principle that where there are general words in a later statute it cannot be held that the earlier statutes are repealed altered or discarded.
      Rejecting these arguments, the apex court had ordered the disclosure of information relating to loan default and other such details sought by various applicants.
      Some of these arguments, rejected by the Supreme Court, were put by the RBI before the CIC during the hearing of Agrawal's case.

    Sensex, Nifty fall in early trade on profit booking
    • The benchmark BSE Sensex fell by 85 points while NSE Nifty slumped below the 9,400-mark in early trade today due to profit booking by investors.
      The 30-share barometer declined by 85.17 points, or 0.28 per cent, to 30,485.80 points. Shares of healthcare, power, realty, PSU, consumer durables, oil and gas and metal were trading in the negative zone, with losses of up to 2.40 per cent.
      The key BSE index had gained 136.18 points in the last two sessions. The 50-share Nifty of the National Stock Exchange fell by 39.90 points, or 0.42 per cent, to 9,398.35. Brokers said investors booked profits after recent gains and amid mixed global cues.
      A weak rupee also dampened sentiment, they said. Among major Sensex losers, ITC dropped 1.23 per cent after a recent rally.
      The stock had gained over 6 per cent yesterday. State Bank of India, Adani Ports, Sun Pharma and Gail fell up to 6 per cent, dragging the index into the negative.
      In the Asian region, Japan's Nikkei fell 0.12 per cent and China's Shanghai Composite index shed 0.10 per cent in early trade today. Hong Kong's Hang Seng, however, rose by 0.31 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 0.43 per cent higher in yesterday's trade.

    General Awareness

    Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu flags off high-speed Tejas Express between Mumbai-Goa

    • The luxurious train, Tejas Express set to be running between Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Karmali in North Goa on May 22.
      Key Points:
      Tejas Express has ultra-modern facilities like LED TV, wi-fi, CCTV etc.The Tejas Express would operate between Mumbai and Karmali (Goa) five days a week during non-monsoon period and during monsoon, just three days a week.
      • It has 20 coaches – one executive AC chair car with 56 seating capacity and 12 AC chair cars with 78 seat capacity of each coach.
      • It is flagged off from Mumbai to Goa on Monday at 3:25 pm.
      • It is a super-fast train, which will run at a speed of 130 kmph.
      • Touch-less water taps, hand dryers as well as bio vacuum toilets are also installed in the train.
      • As per the recent data, 207 passengers booked tickets for the AC chair car and 10 for executive AC chair car.
      • The train, manufactured at the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala, a city in Punjab.
      • A digital destination along with a GPS-based passenger information display system is available for each passenger.
      • Tejas Express’s executive class fare is Rs 2,680 with food and Rs 2,525 without food.
      • For AC chair car the fare has been fixed at Rs 1,280 with food and Rs 1,155 without food.
      • For visually challenged travelers, the train has Braille assistance installed in the information system of digital facilities.
      Some More Points:
      • Maharashtra Capital: Mumbai
      • CM: Devendra Fadnavis
      • Governor: C. Vidyasagar Rao
      • Goa Capital: Panji
      • CM: ManoharParikkar
      • Governor: MridulaSinha

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