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Current Affairs - 27 May 2017

General Affairs 

Only NCP And CPI-M To Participate In EVM Challenge, AAP And Congress Want Changes
  • Only Left party CPI(M) and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party will participate in the Election Commission's challenge to hack an electronic voting machine or EVM next week. Lalu Yadav's RJD made a last-minute dash to confirm participation, but its application was rejected by the poll panel as it reached 39 minutes after the 5 pm deadline on Friday.

    The BJP, Left party CPI and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have said they would like to observe the hackathon, which is scheduled between 10 am and 2 pm on June 3. Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress have said they will not participate, demanding that the EC change its rules, which say that the participants will not get access to the EVM's motherboard, they can bring along only wireless devices and no tools, and can only touch buttons.

    "This is not a hackathon. Why participate in a drama," Aam Aadmi Party's Delhi convenor Gopal Rai said on Friday, adding that the party will "not accept the EVM challenge in its present context". Delhi's ruling party, one of the most aggressive in alleging that EVM's have been manipulated in recent elections, asked why the poll panel was "running away" from organising a no-holds-barred hackathon as promised.

    AAP wanted to be allowed to attempt changing the motherboard of a vote machine during the challenge, which the EC turned down. Mr Rai said the party had made its request again in a letter for an "open hackathon," but it rejected.

    The AAP leader said there should be "no rules and regulations" in a hackathon in which hackers are invited to test the security of any system using any available tool. "Such ethical hacking is to help understand the loopholes. What the EC is offering is only a visual inspection," Mr Rai said.

    The Election Commission, which maintains that its machines are tamper-proof, had announced on Saturday that the challenge to hack an EVM would take place on June 3 and that seven recognised national parties and 49 state parties could apply.

    Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, the first to allege that EVMs were rigged in the Uttar Pradesh Elections to aid the BJP's massive sweep of the state. Mayawati's BSP came a poor third. The party has not responded at all to the Election Commission's invitation.

Dhola-Sadiya Bridge Brings Hope, Cheer. But Boatmen Expect A sustenance Plan
  • At the boat ghat, as Bhakta Gurung settled in a seat in the last boat of the day from Dhola, a small town in Assam's Tinsukia district, 570 km from Guwahati, to Sadiya, he told that boats are the only way to cross the turbulent Lohit River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. 

    Every year, the river swells following heavy rainfall and the boats stop plying leaving Assam's Sadiya and Eastern Arunachal Pradesh cut off from the rest of the country.

    "We have been using this river link for ages and it was a dream to have a bridge. But now it is a reality and we are so excited. We sometime don't get the boat in time, at times boats don't ply and in case of emergencies we feel helpless as boats aren't available at night. Now we are tension-free as we can travel at our will," said 29-year-old Gurung.

    Today, Mr Gurung's felt proud and relieved when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated and dedicated to the nation the Dhola-Sadiya bridge, the longest bridge in the country.

    The 9.15 km bridge is longer than the 5.6-km-long Bandra-Worli Sea Link. It will connect and bring closer the people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

    PM Modi took a drive and asked his convoy to stop almost half way on the bridge. He got down to perhaps enjoy the historic moment as well as the breeze.

    The bridge is an engineering marvel. It will provide an easy access to Indian armed forces to some of the most remote areas on the India-China border, a region full of rough terrains.

    "When the bridge was under construction, inclement weather and floods were key challenges besides other local issues. The weather is unpredictable here, it can change any moment," said MNVS Satya Pathi Raju, HR Manager of Navayuga Engineering that constructed the bridge.

    But the boatmen are a little worried. They urge the government to develop this area as a tourism circuit.

    "People here are very excited about the bridge, but the livelihood of about 5,000 people will be gone since the boat ghat will become defunct. We request the government to look into this and may be a new plan can be worked out for alternative livelihood around the bridge," said Biswajit Roy, manager of Dhola boat ghat.

    This bridge will become the lifeline for thousands of people living in remote areas and would be India's first statement towards building robust infrastructure in the eastern periphery.

In Maharashtra, Citizens Help 47,000 Primary Schools Go Digital
  • At the Zilla Parishad primary school in Maharashtra's Vadgaon Gund, about 200 kilometres from Mumbai, tablets have replaced textbooks and students now use an interactive projector instead of a blackboard. About 20 students per class, from Class 1 to 4 study here. What makes it more interesting is the fact that the digitisation has been completely funded by the citizens of the state.

    As the Maharashtra government is trying to establish as many digital classrooms possible, citizens, too, are joining in to make this dream a reality. Out of 65,000 government primary schools in Maharashtra, over 47,000 have gone digital without government funding spread out across Maharashtra.

    Nine-year-old Diksha Balulanke, a Class 4 student, has the whole syllabus available on her tablet. She likes to solve math problems on it. Technology is an alien concept for her parents who are farmers, but Diksha is already a tech champ.

    "For over a year now, we have been using tablets. Besides studying, we also like to play games related to math, English, sciences. Technology has definitely made classes more interesting," said Diksha.

    Even though it's only been a year since the Vadgaon school went digital, the initiative began seven years ago by Sandeep Gund, a teacher. After the model got success in its first school in 2009 in Thane district, teachers from government schools in the state volunteered to get trained in emulate the concept in their respective villages. Soon they starting receiving funds from many individuals across the state and smart solutions were implemented using that money.

    "We have accepted anything from Rs. 500 to Rs. 3 lakh as donations. Depending on the funds received, we come up with ways to digitise the schools," said Mr Gund.

    The Vadgaon school received about Rs. 3 lakh which was enough to buy tablets, that are solar charged, for all the students and an Xbox containing an interactive syllabus. Their attendance is marked using access cards.

    "Digital education gives the kids an edge over others and helps them stay ahead," said Dr Ajit Lanke, whose son studies at the school.

    "We aim to make all the government schools digital in Maharashtra in the next three-four months," said state Principal Secy, School Education and Sports Department, Government of Maharashtra, Nand Kumar.

Saharanpur Clashes 'Well-Planned Conspiracy': Yogi Adityanath Government
  • As the Union Home Ministry rushed 400 riot-control policemen to Saharanpur on Thursday, the Yogi Adityanath government called the continuing incidents of violence in the western Uttar Pradesh district a "well-planned conspiracy" but held out hope that a new team of district officers would be able to restore normalcy within 24 hours.

    The Uttar Pradesh government had on Wednesday blamed Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's visit this week to Shabbirpur, a village where clashes between Dalits and Thakurs or Rajputs earlier this month led to the death of a Dalit man. On Thursday, the state government said Chandrashekhar Azad of a local Dalit outfit Bhim Sena would be arrested soon.

    UP Home Secretary Mani Parsad Mishra said clashes had been reported off and on in Saharanpur over the past few years. But he conceded that the incidents had not attained the magnitude witnessed over the last month, beginning from April 20. This is when a group backed by the ruling party's lawmaker Raghav Lakhanpal tried to browbeat the police into allowing a procession to mark Ambedkar Jayanti and announced the transfer of then district police chief Love Kumar.

    "Since April 20 violence, the intensity of such incidents has been on a rise and some where it has been felt that there was something lacking in the police administration," Mr Mishra said, a day he suspended the district's police chief SC Dubey and collector NP Singh. Both had been appointed by the BJP government less than a month earlier.

    With a new team in place, the home secretary expressed the situation was likely to become normal within 24 hours.

    The home secretary's visit comes against the backdrop of criticism that the Yogi Adityanath government, which came to power on the plank of improving the law and order situation in the state in March, hadn't been able to deliver on this promise.

    "Four companies (about 400 personnel) of the Rapid Action Force have been sent to Saharanpur... following a request of the Uttar Pradesh government," a PTI report said, quoting home ministry spokesperson Ashok Prasad.

    The central forces were sent after an initial report to the home ministry detailed two deaths and injuries to 40 people in clashes. The first death took place on 5 May when 15 people were also injured. The second death took place on Tuesday when one person was shot and two others injured in clashes. In between, on May 9, about 12 police vehicles were set ablaze and 12 policemen injured.

    In all, Union Home Ministry officials said over 40 people have been arrested for the violence.

    In Saharanpur, however, there were hints that the police may have been less than fair.

    Mr Mishra, who met people in one of the affected areas of the district, Shabbirpur, said he had come across cases in which an 80-year-old man or a 14-year-old had been made an accused. The top official vowed to ensure that those responsible for the violence would not be spared but made it a point to stress that "no innocent will be made an scapegoat" either.

Sonia Gandhi's 'Unity' Lunch For Opposition, As PM Narendra Modi Government Turns 3
  • Congress president Sonia Gandhi hosted a lunch for the leaders of the opposition parties in the capital today where several arch-rivals put up a united face. On the menu was the upcoming Presidential election. Leaders of 16 parties discussed the possibility of fielding a joint candidate for President to take on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's nominee. 

    The meeting is seen as a show of strength by the opposition parties on the day that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government completes three years in office.

    West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee told reporters after the lunch that no name of a candidate was discussed during the meeting. "There will be a committee to find a consensus candidate... If there is a secular candidate, we can come together," she said.

    Among others who attended Mrs Gandhi's lunch are Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury, CPI's D Raja, DMK's Kanimozhi,  Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who is himself a possible contender for the top constitutional post.

    Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, however, was not invited as his party has so far not taken part in any joint opposition programme.

    Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, other senior Congress leaders like Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and AK Antony were also there.

    Mrs Gandhi personally called up opposition leaders and invited them for today's lunch in parliament library.

    A day before the luncheon, Ms Banerjee met PM Modi on Thursday. The West Bengal Chief Minister said she did not discuss the topic of the Presidential candidate with the Prime Minister.

    Sources said the opposition is unlikely to decide on a candidate for President just yet. Most of them will also meet after a week in Chennai, for DMK chief M Karunanidhi's birthday celebrations. They are also expected to wait and watch who the BJP picks as its candidate.

Business Affairs 

Sensex breaches 31,000-mark, Nifty nears 9,600
  • Benchmark Sensex soared past the 31,000-mark for the first time today on sustained fund inflows amid robust corporate earnings.
    The broader Nifty too gained 81.55 points, or 0.85 per cent, to hit a new lifetime high of 9,591.30. The 30-share index flared up by 284.27 points, or 0.92 per cent, to hit 31,034.30 at 1345 hrs. The gauge had rallied 448.39 points in the previous session.
    All the sectoral indices, led by metal, capital goods, auto and power, were trading in positive zone with gains of up to 3.53 per cent.
    The benchmark BSE Sensex has risen nearly 26 per cent since the BJP-led NDA government came to power in May 2014.
    Marketmen said persistent inflow of foreign funds and sustained buying by retail investors, buoyed by a series of positive cues such as early onset of monsoon, upbeat quarterly earnings and finalisation of rates by the GST Council, fuelled the rally.
    Firmness in the rupee against the dollar and fall in global crude oil prices also influenced trading sentiment, brokers said.
    Creation of new positions by participants following the beginning of the June futures and options (F&O) series too added to the momentum, they added.
    Prominent gainers among the 30 Sensex stocks were Tata Steel, Adani Ports, Reliance Industries, Asian Paints, Power Grid, Bharti Airtel, L&T, Infosys, HDFC Ltd, M&M, Hero MotoCorp, ICICI Bank, ITC Ltd, ONGC, Maruti Suzuki, Wipro and Coal India, gaining up to 5.99 per cent.
    A mixed trend at other Asian markets and a better opening in Europe also helped the key indices. 

Cut prices, pass GST benefits to customers: Govt tells telcos
  • The Finance Ministry today asked telecom companies to rejig costs and lower prices to pass on the benefits of tax rate reduction under GST to customers from July.
    Under the Goods and Services Tax regime, which will come into being from July 1, telecom services will attract an 18 per cent levy. Service providers can claim input tax credit (ITC) which will bring down the effective incidence of the levy.
    "The telecom companies are required to re-work their costing and credits availability and re-jig their prices and ensure that the increased availability of credit is passed on to the customers by lowering their costs," the ministry said.
    At present, telecommunication services attract service tax of 14 per cent along with Swachh Bharat Cess and Krishi Kalyan Cess of 0.5 per cent each.
    "As against the above, the telecommunication services will attract GST of 18 per cent in the GST regime, which is a pure value added tax because full ITC on inputs used in the course or furtherance of business by the telecommunication service providers would be available," a finance ministry ministry statement said.
    It said that at present telecom service providers are neither eligible for credit of VAT paid on goods nor of Special Additional Duty (SAD) paid on imported goods/equipment.
    However, under GST, they would avail credit of IGST paid on domestically procured goods as also imported goods.
    "As per some estimates, this additional Input Tax Credit would be as much as 2 per cent of the turnover of the telecom industry," it said.
    Also, currently ITC of service tax paid on assignment of spectrum by the government in 2016 can be availed by the telcos over a period of three years.
    Under the GST regime, the entire credit can be taken in the same year. Resultantly, the balance two-third credit of the previous year would be admissible in the current financial year itself.
    All of these would reduce the telecom companies' liability to pay GST through cash to about 87 per cent of what they paid in the last fiscal, it said.

Tech Mahindra Q4 profit dives 33 percent on weak margins
  • Tech Mahindra Ltd, India's fifth-largest software service provider, posted a lower-than-expected fourth-quarter consolidated profit on Friday, weighed down by weak margins and higher cost of services.
    Consolidated profit for the quarter ended March 31, fell 33 percent to 5.90 billion rupees ($91.53 million).
    Analysts on average had expected March-quarter consolidated profit of 7.83 billion rupees, Thomson Reuters data showed.
    Consolidated margin on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell to 12 percent in the quarter from 16.7 percent a year earlier.
    EBITDA took a $20 million hit which came from the company's exit of a networking business contract, Milind Kulkarni, chief financial officer of the company said.
    An appreciating rupee in the quarter and a $15 million impact from "re-profiling" some of the company's legacy business also contributed to the fall, Kulkarni added.
    The company re-negotiated contracts with some of its clients to provide traditional IT services at cheaper rates while clients assured to spend more on automation and artificial intelligence driven services.
    The impact of this "re-profiling" on the company's finances will be visible for the next two to three quarters, Kulkarni said.
    Consolidated total tax expenses surged 28 pct to 2.32 billion rupees, while cost of services jumped 14.7 percent.
    The company posted a near 10 percent jump in consolidated total revenue, helped by growth in its European business.
    "The deal pipeline is stronger in emerging markets and digital transformation," C. P. Gurnani, chief executive of Tech Mahindra said.

    Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar: Luxury car prices drop ahead of GST implementation
    • The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has luxury automakers revved up with the prospect of lower costs, putting them into a giving mood. Since the government announced that luxury cars completely made in India will be taxed at lower rates, auto brands with operations in India have come forth with several benefits for their prospective customers.
      Mercedes Benz, the leader in luxury auto segment in India, announced to slash prices of their select models by as much as Rs 7 lakhs; other car makers followed suit. Here is a look at what major luxury carmakers of India have to offer after lucrative cost cuts post-GST implementation:
      Mercedes-Benz India has reduced prices by up to Rs 7.5 lakh of its locally assembled cars and SUVs. Its nine 'Made in India' models like CLA, GLA, C-Class, E-Class, S-Class, GLC, GLE, GLS and Mercedes-Maybach S 500 gets the price benefit from the new GST regime and get more affordable.
      It announced a downward revision in its transaction prices to cover the difference in current ex-showroom prices and post GST ex-showroom prices for customers on the entire range of 'Made in India' range.  The new price will be effective immediately.
      The actual price cut, though, anywhere between 2 per cent and 9 per cent, will vary according to the outgoing taxes compared against the new state-wise GST rates.
      Competitor BMW has reduced the rate of interest to 7.9 per cent. The German carmaker is also offering complimentary service and maintenance for three years, assured buyback guarantee for four years and one year complimentary insurance. All of this will be in addition to the decline in price effected by GST.
      Jaguar Land Rover
      On the other hand, Jaguar Land Rover brought down prices of three of its models in India by up to Rs 4 lakh. The Range Rover Evoque will now be available for 45.85 lakh, whereas the Discovery Sport will be priced at Rs 43.80 lakh. The petrol variant of Jaguar XE sedan Jaguar XE sedan will be available for 37.25 lakh. All figures are ex-showroom prices for Delhi.

    Infosys founder chairman N R Narayana Murthy expresses dejection over recent IT layoffs
    • Expressing his disappointment over the recent layoffs in IT sector , the Founder Chairman of tech giant Infosys, N R Narayana Murthy, on Friday said that the whole scenario is just sad.
      Murthy, however, did not elaborate on the matter. Recently, Infosys had announced that it could hand out pink slips to hundreds of mid and senior-level employees as it carries out bi-annual performance review amid a challenging business environment.
      The move comes when Information Technology sector in India is looking at tough times as seven of the biggest IT companies, both Indian and multinational firms with a significant presence in India, reportedly plan to ask at least 56,000 engineers to leave this year.
      Meanwhile, a McKinsey & Company report had said nearly half of the workforce in the IT services firms would be "irrelevant" over the next 3-4 years. McKinsey India Managing Director Noshir Kaka had also said the bigger challenge ahead for the industry would be to re-train 50-60 per cent of the workforce as there would be a significant shift in technologies.
      The fear of job cuts in the Indian IT sector has spread amid a wave of protectionism washing over the world. From Donald Trump's America First emphasis to Brexit and rise of nationalists elsewhere. It has meant that Indian Information Technology companies which acted as the services back office to the world face many challenges. Irrespective of the claims to the contrary, a large part of Indian IT's advantage - though not the only one - was labour arbitrage.
      In regular speak, it means that cost of hiring a software engineer in India was a fraction of doing so in the US or the UK. So doing work in India, paying employees in rupees, but billing clients in dollars or euros or pounds made it a very profitable business.
      The announcement by Infosys that it will hire 10,000 people in the US (onsite) means that it recognizes the business operating environment has changed in that country. Other Indian players or MNC's who followed the India model, whether they announce publicly or not, will follow suit -- if they are not already doing that. It is not a voluntary choice.

    General Awareness

    Mumbai, Kota among world’s most crowded cities says WEF

    • Two Indian cities Mumbai and Kota have been named among the world’s most crowded cities.
      Key Notes:
      According to World Economic Forum (WEF) citing UN Habitat data the list is topped by Dhaka.
      • Dhaka has a population density of 44,500 people per square kilometer.
      • Dhaka is the most crowded city on the planet, followed by India’s financial capital Mumbai.
      • Mumbai has a population density of 31,700 people per square kilometre at the second place.
      • Medellin in Columbia ranked third with 19,700 people per square kilometer followed by Manila at the 4th place with a density of 14,800.
      • Casablanca, Morocco at 5th place with a density of 14,200.
      • Nigeria at 6th place with a density of 13,300.
      • Kota in Rajasthan with 12,100 people per square kilometre was ranked seventh.
      • Singapore at 8th place with a density of 10,200.
      • Jakarta, Indonesia at 9th place with a density of 9,600.
      About World Economic Forum
      The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Swiss nonprofit foundation.
      WEF HQ: Cologny, Geneva.
      Executive Chairman: Klaus Schwab
      • WEF mission is “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”.
      • The organization also convenes some six to eight regional meetings each year in locations across Africa, East Asia and Latin America.
      • It also undertakes two further annual meetings in China and the United Arab Emirates.
      • The foundation produces a series of research reports and engages its members in sector specific initiatives.

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