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Current Affairs - 1 June 2017

General Affairs 

Many Opportunities In India: PM Narendra Modi Tells Spanish Firms
  • It is a great time for Spanish firms to invest in India whose strong economic growth offers "many opportunities" for them in infrastructure, defence, tourism and energy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today.

    PM Modi, the first Indian prime minister to visit Spain since 1992, said the two nations maintain close and cordial relations and he sees great potential in this collaboration. "The strong economic growth of India offers many opportunities for Spanish companies," PM Modi told Spanish daily Expansion in an interview. "It's a great time for Spanish companies to invest in India."

    PM Modi said a large number of Spanish companies are doing business in India, and his government wants more firms to invest in the country. "Spanish firms enjoy a worldwide reputation in various fields, such as infrastructure, defence, tourism and energy. These sectors have also been identified by my government as priority sectors," he said.

    Spain is the 12th largest investor in India and the seventh largest trading partner in the European Union. Over 200 Spanish companies in India are involved in road construction projects, railways, wind power, water desalination, defence and smart cities projects.

    Over 40 Indian companies are based in Spain in technology, pharmaceuticals, automotive and energy sectors. "There are synergies between the experience and priorities of both countries and numerous possibilities for additional investments," PM Modi said.

    "I see many complementarities between my government's flagship initiatives, such as Make in India, and Spain's experience in defence, transport infrastructure, high-speed trains, water and waste management and technologies. I encourage Spanish companies to take advantage of these opportunities," PM Modi added.

    PM Modi said he was personally committed to helping foreign companies set up operations in India. "We should also increase cooperation in strategic field in areas such as cyber security, maritime cooperation and defence," he said.

    PM Modi said Spain and India have been victims of terrorism for a long time, adding both countries need to unite to strengthen the global fight against terrorism. Recalling his meeting with Spanish President Mariano Rajoy in November 2015 on the sidelines of the G20 summit, PM Modi said he has "a great interest in promoting the talks and drawing together an ambitious road map for a greater bilateral commitment between India and Spain."

No Cyber Attack On Aadhaar Biometric Data: UIDAI
  • The core biometric data of Aadhaar card holders has "till date" not faced any cyber attack, UIDAI has said in response to an RTI query.

    The Unique Identification Authority of India, however, refused to share the latest cyber security assessment of Aadhaar data, citing national security.

    "The information cannot be shared under section 8(1)(a) of RTI Act as the data being National asset and sharing the systems in place can affect the security interest of the UIDAI and may lead to incitement of an offence and clause 7 of the Aadhaar data security regulation," UIDAI said.

    Responding to an RTI query by a PTI correspondent seeking to know the number of cyber attacks directed at the core biometric data of Aadhaar users, the agency said there have been "nil" reported cases.

    UIDAI presently maintains the data of about 114 crore Indians in over 6,000 servers located in Bengaluru and Manesar.

    The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) had claimed in a recent report that Aadhaar numbers and personal information of about 135 million Indians may have been leaked from government portals.

    The report had said the absence of "proper controls" in populating the databases could have disastrous results as it may divulge sensitive information about individuals, including details about address, photographs and financial data.

    The portals where the purported leaks happened were those of National Social Assistance Programme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, as well as two websites of the Andhra Pradesh government, it had said.

Cyclone Mora: Indian Navy Plucks 33 Survivors, Body, From Sea
  • An Indian navy ship has plucked 33 people and a body from rough seas off Bangladesh, officials said Wednesday, a day after Cyclone Mora battered coastal areas with violent winds and rain that left six dead.

    The INS Sumitra found the survivors, including women and children, floating in the Bay of Bengal roughly 160 kilometres off the coast of Chittagong.

    "Our navy have found 33 survivors and one dead body from the sea. They were floating in the waters when they were found," Dhaka's Indian High Commission spokesperson Ranjan Mondol said.

    The Indian embassy's Facebook page showed pictures of survivors floating in the Bay of Bengal as well as of rescued people covered in blankets.

    Eastern Naval Command spokesman Commander CG Raju said the rescued Bangladeshis were given medical treatment. "We are planning to send a rescue aircraft to look out for more survivors," he told AFP.

    Cyclone Mora smashed into Bangladesh's coastline around Cox's Bazar district early Tuesday, packing winds up to 135 kilometres per hour.

    Officials said the cyclone killed at least seven people, including the person found by the Indian Navy, and destroyed or damaged more than 20,000 homes. Nearly 6 lakh residents have been evacuated from coastal areas.

    The Indian Navy had reportedly kept its Eastern Fleet on the highest alert level to assist Bangladesh if needed.

    As the cyclone advanced on Bangladesh, local authorities increased the maritime threat to its highest level and ordered all fishing vessels to remain at port.  The Fishing Boat Association said an estimated 200 fishermen had not returned to port since the cyclone slammed into the coast.

    "We think they could be stranded or have anchored in far-flung islands or villages," association secretary Abdul Khalek told AFP.
    In the past many fishermen reported missing during cyclones return to their villages after the storm has subsided.

    The Bangladeshi navy has said it was sending ships to assist the tens of thousands affected by the cyclone, and to comb the seas for any stranded survivors.

    "Our ships are also actively working on search and rescue operations in the region," said Taposhi Rabeya, a spokesperson at the armed forces division.

China Pleased That India Turned Down A War Games Request From Australia
  • China has welcomed reports that India has refused to allow Australia to join naval exercises with the United States and Japan in July. Beijing had earlier warned against expanding the drills.

    "I have seen the relevant reports on the refusal made by India for the invitation. I think India is also clear about the consideration behind this behaviour," said a Chinese government spokesperson Hua Chunying said today.

    Last year, Chinese media sharply criticised what are known as the Malabar exercises saying that they are designed to target China.

    Australia formally wrote to the Indian defense ministry in January asking if it could send naval ships to join the July wargames as an observer, according to news agency Reuters, in what military experts saw as a step toward eventual full participation.

    Four officials from India, Australia and Japan told Reuters that India blocked the proposal and suggested that Canberra send officers to watch the exercises in the Bay of Bengal from the decks of the three participating countries' warships, instead.

    New Delhi is worried that China will step up activities in the Indian Ocean where it is building infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, feeding India's anxiety about being encircled, Indian military sources and diplomats said.

    Indian navy officials say there have been at least six submarine deployments by China in the Indian Ocean since 2013 and that Chinese submarines have been docking in Sri Lanka and its long-time ally Pakistan.

    India and China relations have slumped in the last few months over a series of issues including Beijing's blocking of Delhi's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a bloc of 48 countries that controls trade in sophisticated nuclear technology and material.

    China has also been concerned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has stepped up public engagement of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who lives in exile in Dharamsala and whom it regards as a dangerous separatist.

    The Malabar exercises started out as India-US drills in 1992 but have included Japan every year from 2014.

    Dozens of warships, submarines and aircraft take part in the wargames, which are aimed at getting the three powerful navies used to working together. US military officials say this will help in future operations, including joint patrols across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

    The exercises are now held in waters close to the East and South China Sea as well as the Indian Ocean.

    China, which claims most of the South China Sea, has protested the expansion. An Australian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters that it was increasingly unlikely Canberra would join the drills although it was keen to do so - Australia has also traditionally been wary of upsetting China, its largest trading partner.

India, Spain Ink 7 Agreements; To Boost Cyber Security
  • India and Spain on Wednesday signed seven agreements, including on cooperation in cyber security and renewable energy, following talks here between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in cyber security.

    A second MoU was signed on cooperation in renewable energy.

    Three other MoUs were signed on cooperation in organ transplantation, technical cooperation in civil aviation, and between the Foreign Service Institute of India and the Diplomatic Academy of Spain. 

    Two agreements were also signed on transfer of sentenced persons and waiving of visas for diplomatic passport holders.

    Earlier in the day, addressing the media ahead of his talks with Spanish premier, PM Modi said terrorism posed the biggest challenge to the world and the fight against this menace formed a key element of India-Spain ties.

    He said his visit to Spain would add fresh momentum to bilateral ties.

    PM Modi arrived in Madrid from Germany on Tuesday on the second leg of his six-day, four-nation tour of Europe that will also take him to Russia and France.

    This is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Spain in nearly 30 years since Rajiv Gandhi paid a trip in 1988. PM Modi and the Spanish prime minister last met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Turkey in November 2015.

Business Affairs 

    Petrol price hiked by Rs 1.23/litre, diesel by 89 paise
    • Petrol price was today hiked by Rs 1.23 per litre and diesel by 89 paise a litre in sync with rising international fuel rates.
      The increase in price, effective midnight tonight, comes on the back of a Rs 2.16 per litre cut in petrol and Rs 2.10 a litre reduction in diesel prices effected from May 16.
      Petrol price in Delhi will cost Rs 66.91 per litre from tomorrow as against Rs 65.32 a litre currently. Similarly, a litre of diesel will be priced at Rs 55.94, as compared to Rs 54.90 at present.
      Announcing the price hike, Indian Oil Corp (IOC), the nation's largest fuel retailer, said the rates have been hiked excluding local state levies or VAT and actual increase will be higher depending on tax rate.
      "The current level of international product prices of petrol and diesel and INR-USD exchange rate warrant decrease in selling price of petrol and diesel, the impact of which is being passed on to the consumers with this price revision," IOC said in a statement.
      The movement of prices in the international oil market and INR-USD exchange rate will continue to be monitored closely and developing trends of the market will be reflected in future price changes, it said.

    Demonetisation hits growth: GDP growth slows to 6.1% in March quarter
    • India's economic growth unexpectedly slowed to its lowest in more than two years, dragged down by construction, manufacturing and trade services, and stripping the country of its status as the world's fastest growing major economy.
      Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the January-March period came in at 6.1 percent, compared with a provisional 7.0 percent in the previous quarter, government data showed on Wednesday.
      The expansion was much slower than the 7.1 percent forecast by economists in a Reuters poll. It was also lower than China's growth of 6.9 percent for the first three months of 2017.
      "This data is closer to the ground reality than the previous ones," said Anjali Verma, an economist at PhillipCapital in Mumbai.
      The figure is the lowest since the December quarter in 2014, which registered 6.0 percent growth, Reuters data shows.
      For the 2016/17 fiscal year ending in March, New Delhi reported GDP growth of 7.1 percent, slower than an 8.0 percent expansion a year ago.
      The weak GDP data will be a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who completed three years in office last week.
      Wednesday's figures, however, have not changed expectations for monetary policy. Analysts still expect the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to keep interest rates on hold.
      "We continue to expect the RBI to remain on pause, with any rate hikes ruled out," said Shubhada Rao, chief economist at YES Bank.
      Construction activity contracted 3.7 percent year-on-year in the March quarter compared with a 3.4 percent growth in the prior quarter. Manufacturing grew 5.3 percent in the last quarter from a year ago, slower than an annual rise of 8.2 percent in the December quarter.
      Annual growth in trade, hotels and transport services slowed to 6.5 percent in the January-March period from 8.3 percent a quarter ago.

    7th Pay Commission: Key meeting on central govt employees allowance recommendation on June 1
    • Come tomorrow, central government employees pinning their hopes on the recommendations of Ashok Lavasa's Committee on Allowances might have a reason to rejoice. The Empowered Committee of Secretaries (E-CoS) will screen the suggestions before they send it to the Cabinet for approval.
      The Empowered Committee is scheduled to meet on June 1, as confirmed by Cabinet Secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha, to finalise the proposals by Lavasa Committee on allowance structure. Once done with the discussions, the E-CoS will consolidate the report and table it before the Union Cabinet tomorrow itself for final approval.
      Meanwhile, central government employees' union has decided to wait for the Cabinet to decide on the allowances reforms before deciding what steps to take next. "We have waited for so long. We will wait for another one or two weeks till the time these changes are executed," said Shiv Gopal Mishra, Secretary, NCJCM.
      Sinha, in a meeting last week with Mishra, had assured the latter that the interests of the central government employees will be protected when moving ahead with allowances.
      The employees are apprehensive of the 7th Pay Commission cutting down the House Rent Allowance rates to 24 per cent, 18 per cent and 8 per cent on the basis of pay scale. Previously HRA rates were at 30 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent. "HRA rates have never been decreased by any of the previous pay commissions if they have not been increased," noted Mishra.
      Apart from HRA , central government employees are also waiting for a word on basic pay and arrears on changed allowance rates. The employees are also waiting for updates on the New Pension System, according to Mishra.
      Central government employees have been waiting for an update on allowances since June last year, when the Cabinet approved the 7th Central Pay
      Commission's recommendations about pay and pension. Extensive changes in allowances suggested by the pay panel were put on hold for they were being examined by the Committee on Allowances.
      The 7th Pay Commission had suggested that the 52 allowances out of 196 be entirely scraped while 36 others to be subsumed into other allowances. The Cabinet felt the need to get a second opinion on the proposals and they were put on hold. Presently, allowances are being paid at older rates.

    Dell EMC to invest $1 billion in India, targets over $3 billion turnover
    • Eyeing a turnover of over $3 billion in India, IT infrastructure provider Dell EMC plans to invest $1 billion to set up its product development centre in Pune.
      "Dell EMC as a company has announced recently another USD 1 billion of capex investment in this country for setting up a development centre in Pune and also expanding our local manufacturing here. Our sales turnover is going to be over USD 3 billion in next two years," Dell EMC Director for Mega Projects, Ravinder Pal Singh said at an Assocham event.
      Dell EMC already has a manufacturing unit at Sriperumbudur near Chennai.
      He said that the company last month shipped 10 millionth product from its Sriperumbudur factory.
      Singh, however, expressed concern over the current structure of government policies and bids process for public procurement.
      He said that security is a growing need for India as also the world over as so many terrorist incidents have taken place.
      "But, when we look at GST rates, security devices have been put at 28 per cent. Ultimately, if you look at security, lots need to be done from government policy perspective," Singh said.
      He said the government needs to look at domestic electronic market size and the demand that is being met from imports.
      "Push for start-up to be able to compete is a great step to enable local manufacturing and innovation," Singh said.
      He said that the governments policy need to extend benefits to original equipment makers in India like Dell EMC to boost local manufacturing ecosystem.
      "Most of OEMs, despite having local manufacturing, doesnt benefit from it," Singh said.
      Singh said that in lots of government projects, the lowest bidder is given business which is resulting in deterioration in quality of products that which is being used in some large projects. PTI PRS JM

    Cabinet likely to take call soon on Air India privatisation
    • The Union Cabinet will soon take a call on privatisation of loss-making Air India with NITI Aayog suggesting that taxpayers money being pumped into the airline can instead be used on health and education. 
      Staying afloat on little over Rs 30,000 crore bailout package extended by the previous UPA regime, Air India is working on ways to improve its financial position amid stiff competition. The Civil Aviation Ministry is already looking into the recommendations made by NITI Aayog for the national carriers revival. 
      Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had last week pitched for Air India's disinvestment saying the carriers market share is just around 14 per cent whereas the debt burden is Rs 50,000 crore.
      A top government official today said the Cabinet is expected to take a decision on whether to privatise Air India, whose financial situation is "very bad". "Financial position of Air India is very bad. Niti Aayogs view is that government should spend money on health, education, instead of spending Rs 30,000 crore on Air India," the official told PTI. 
      The Cabinet "will soon take call on privatisation of Air India", he added. While the exact contours of proposed privatisation could not be immediately ascertained, the possibility of strategic stake sale as well as outright disinvestments are being considered. Since the merger of Indian Airlines with itself, Air India has been in the red. However, it posted an operational profit of Rs 105 crore on account of low fuel prices and increased passenger numbers in 2015-16. On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Ministry said all possible alternatives are being considered to make Air India viable, even as it asserted that the clock cannot be put back on the Indian Airlines merger. Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha had said whatever that would be done for Air India will be in national interest.
      "We are considering all possible alternatives (for Air India)... We are discussing (what can be) the winning strategy for the airline," he had said. About Air India and Indian Airlines merger that happened in 2007, which is seen as a reason for the problems of the national carrier, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had said the clock cannot be put back on the deal. Also, discussions on disinvestment of Air India have gathered momentum at a time when the CBI has registered three FIRs and a preliminary enquiry (PE) to go into the controversial decisions made by the erstwhile UPA government with regard to Air India, including surrender of profitable routes to favour private airlines. 

    General Awareness

    Mumbai, Delhi, 7 other Indian cities in JLL’s global 300

      1. Mumbai, Delhi and 7 other Indian cities have featured in the list of top 300 global cities which are the focus of commercial activity and interest. This list has been compiled by real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).
        More Information on JLL’s Global 300 List:
        The 300 global cities featured in the list account for 40% of the world’s economy and almost 75% of global real estate investment.
        • On Commercial Attraction Index, New York has ranked 1st, whereas in terms of Economic Size, Tokyo has ranked 1st.
        • In terms of economic size, Mumbai and Delhi accounted for a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than $400 billion. Mumbai is 5th and Delhi is 6thlargest city in Asia in terms of economic size. Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Jakarta are the top 4 cities of Asia.
        • Owing to large population, both Mumbai and Delhi lag behind their global counterparts, in terms of GDP per capita. Asian cities Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Singapore and many American cities have per capita incomes that are three to four times larger than Mumbai and Delhi.
        • In terms of corporate presence Mumbai is ahead of major commercial hubs like San Francisco, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Washington, Atlanta and Toronto. Delhi, too, is ahead of cities like Guangzhou and Frankfurt.
        Real Estate Investment in Mumbai and Delhi:
        Over the past three years, Mumbai and Delhi have attracted $1.7 billion and $0.6 billion of real estate investment
        • Owing to such low figure, Mumbai and Delhi did not find place in ‘Global Top 100’ real estate investment destinations.
        • However, recent reform initiatives undertaken by the Indian government such as RERA, REITs, simplification of taxation and easing of FDI restrictions, are expected to improve the investment flows in future.
        Nine Indian Cities in JLL’s Global 300 List – In Terms of Economic Size:

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