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Current Affairs - 13 June 2017

General Affairs 

Indian Air Force to hold limited trials of American F-16, Swedish Saab Gripen fighter aircraft
  • The Indian Air Force will hold limited trials of the American F-16 and Swedish Saab Gripen fighter aircraft for selecting the foreign partner to build 120 combat planes under the Make in India project.
    The total worth of the deal is estimated to be around $20 billion (Rs 1.3 lakh crore).
    IAF sources said the two planes had undergone extensive trials seven years ago when the IAF was evaluating aircraft for buying 126 mediummultirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA).
    "We have chosen the two planes based on evaluation done by us seven years ago. For the Make in India project, we will now hold trials of only those capabilities which they were found to be lacking in these aircraft in those days," an IAF officer told Mail Today.
    Sources said during the M-MRCA trials, the F-16 was not selected as it was found that there was no potential for developing the aircraft further while the Saab Gripen did not have advanced radar called AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array), which was mandatory requirement in that project.
    IAF sources said both the firms have informed the air force that they would be fully compliant to the requirements now as the American firm has come up with a latest version of the F-16 known as Block 70 while the Swedish firm has also acquired the advanced AESA radar.
    "To test the new capabilities, there would a limited trial only and we are hoping to select and finalise the foreign partner within the next one year," the IAF sources said.
    The 120 single-engine fighter jets would be used by the IAF to replace its ageing fleet of the Russian MiG-series planes including the MiG-21s and the MiG-27s which form the backbone of the Indian fighter plane fleet.
    Almost all the variants of the MiG-21s and MiG-27s would retire by the year 2025 and the IAF is hoping that their replacements would be ready for induction into the service in form of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft and the 120 'Made in India' fighter planes.
    The IAF has plans of inducting around 123 LCA combat jets as the NDA government recently gave clearance to a Rs 50,000 crore project to induct 83 planes and augment the rate of production of these planes in the state-owned HAL in Bangalore.
    Meanwhile, the Navy is testing the American F-18 and the French Dassault for acquiring 57 twin-engine planes for its next aircraft carrier Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC).
    Asked about the need for acquiring twin-engine fighter aircraft in the category of Rafale-36 which have been contracted for the IAF, the sources said India would hold a separate competition for those aircraft but only after the single engine fighter aircraft competition is completed.
    The IAF has 33 squadrons of fighter aircraft in its inventory, which includes mainly single-engine planes like MiG 21s and MiG 27s along with Su-30MKI, MiG 29 and Jaguar.

Indian Railways considering Metro-like self-propelled trains for high-speed corridors

  • Racing against time to bring a network of "high-speed corridors" on track, the Indian Railways is exploring self-propelled train sets similar to those used in Delhi Metro.
    This technology, experts say, will not only achieve faster acceleration of up to 160 km per hour, but also put in place advance protective measures like electro-pneumatic braking system to improve passenger safety.
    Senior railway officials said the prototype of the train is being manufactured at Integral Coach Factory in Chennai and the first two sets will be ready by March 2018. The trial runs will begin soon thereafter.
    A top railway ministry official told Mail Today that the Chennai coach factory has already issued a global tender for technical support for the new trains.
    "These self-propelled trains will be made in India. This will reduce the manufacturing cost to nearly half the cost of importing them from foreign countries. Apart from the passenger comfort, emphasis will be on safety of the trains while they run at high speed," the official said.
    The Chennai factory is looking to equip the train sets with improved mechanical couplers and modern bogies that will support its movement at high speed. "This will help keep the jerks and vibrations at bay," officials associated with the project said.
    "The train will have fully suspended traction motors, pneumatic secondary suspension and anti-roll bar. The brake system will be Electro Pneumatic, which will reduce the braking distance, so that full speed potential of the train can be harnessed," the officials said.
    The new technology, which comprises electro-pneumatic (EP) brake system, has an edge over the conventional air brake mechanism in terms of speed of control and quick on-vehicle reaction times.
    The EP brake takes less time to respond giving the loco pilot instant control of the entire train. Experts said it was originally designed for subways or metro trains but over the years the system has been widely used in leading train networks across the globe. Its speed of operation also makes it ideal for automatic train operation (ATO).
    For operating trains at the speed of 160 km per hour, the biggest challenge before railways is to modify its existing tracks. This includes removing sharp curves and barricading along the route so that trains can attain high speed without any physical obstructions.
    A network of high speed corridors is the dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but so far only Delhi-Agra corridor has become operational. Gatimaan Express, India's fastest train that runs at the speed of 160 km per hour, runs on the corridor.
    Eight other semi-high speed corridors have been proposed across the country but these are still in the conception stage. Railways has also formed a separate entity, High Speed Rail Corporation (HSRC) for speedy execution of these projects.
    The railways has also started the work to convert two of the busiest routes -- Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah -- into semi-high speed corridors. The maximum speed of trains on these rail routes will increase by 30 km per hour that will cut short the travel time to Mumbai and Kolkata by up to 5 hours.
    As per the plan, the top speed of Rajdhani Express on these routes will be increased from the current 130 kmph to 160 kmph. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has instructed railway officials to execute the two projects on priority basis.
    Railway Ministry has appointed its engineering wing RITES as a consultant to execute the project in the next three years. The project is a part of 'Mission Raftar' envisaged by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu under which average speed of the trains will be increased by up to 25 km per hour.

J-K: Pakistan continues to violate ceasefire, Indian Army gives befitting reply
  • Pakistan Army initiated indiscriminate firing in Nowshera of Rajouri district in Jammu and Kashmir today, prompting the Indian Army to retaliate with the same force. Pakistan had, earlier today, violated ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu's Krishna Ghati sector.
    "The Pakistani troops violated ceasefire with small arms, automatics rocket projectile grenades (RPG), recoilless rifles and mortars around 8.45 am in Lam sector along the LoC. Indian Army retaliating strongly and effectively," said defence spokesman Lt Col Manish Mehta.
    "This is the ninth ceasefire violation by Pakistan Army since June 1 and the sixth in the last 72 hours," said Lt Col Manish Mehta. "The situation is under control now. We don't have report of any casualty as of now," he added. Earlier, the Pakistan Army had initiated indiscriminate firing of small arms, automatics and mortars around 6.20 am.
    This is the second ceasefire violation in Krishna Ghati sector in two days. Pakistani troops had violated ceasefire along the Line of Control in Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch district on Saturday.
    Pakistan Army had initiated indiscriminate firing thrice on Sunday along the Line of Control (LoC) in different sectors of Jammu and Kashmir.
    The first ceasefire was at the Bhimber Gali sector in Rajouri district after which, the Pakistan Rangers started firing on forward BSF (Border Security Forces) troops in Ramgarh Sector of Samba district on the international border.
    Later on Sunday, Pakistan violated ceasefire along the LoC in Nowshera sector.
    Defence sources said that more than 200 armed terrorists are waiting on launching pads across the Line of Control from Phallanwalla in Jammu to Kupwara-Baramulla sectors in Kashmir valley.

Election Commission asks government for contempt power to act against those who tarnish its image
  • The Election Commission is perturbed over it being labelled as the agent of the ruling party by Opposition parties and now it wants contempt  powers to act against those trying to 'tarnish' its image.
    According to reports, the Election Commission has written to the Law Ministry asking it to amend the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, giving it powers to act against person or organisation sullying its image.
    In the letter, which was written last month, the Election Commission has also cited the example of Election Commission of Pakistan which enjoys contept powers.
    The Election Commission's demand has come in the backdrop of Opposition parties particularly the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) raising questions over the working of central poll panel.
    Election Commissioner OP Rawat had recused himself from cases related to the Aam Aadmi Party the Election Commission is hearing after Delhi Chief Minister and party leader Arvind Kejriwal questioned his independence.
    "He had questioned the independence of the Election Commission. It is a quasi-judicial body that delivers verdicts. Therefore, I have recused myself so that he can have faith in the independence of the institution," Rawat had said.
    Rawat's decision came after Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal expressed doubts, saying he did not believe in the independence of two Commissioners, including Rawat because he comes from Madhya Pradesh and has been very close to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.
    The AAP has also been challenging the Election Commission to hold an 'open' hackathon to test Electronic Voting Machine, which the party claims can be manipulated to help a particular party in elections.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan asks collectors not to be casual towards issues concerning farmers
  • In view of the farmers' strike, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan today directed all district collectors of the state not to adopt a casual approach in the purchase of onion and pulses.
    The BJP government in the state has got down to assessing the situation which gave rise to the farmers' strike which led to the death of six protesters last week. Chouhan held a meeting with the collectors and asked them to be sensitive towards the issues of the farmers.
    He directed the collectors to augment the number of centres for purchasing crops from the farmers. He also asked them to keep an eye on the law and order situation in the state. State chief secretary was also present during the meeting through video conferencing.
    Chouhan ended his 28 hours' fast on Sunday to bring about peace in the state. More than 2,500 farmers attended his hunger strike programme at Dussehra Maidan in Bhopal. He said there were some who did not want peace to continue in the state. They wanted to create anarchy even though the people of the state were peace-loving, he said.
    He said such "criminals" and "sinners" would not be spared. He appealed to the farmers to identify such people and isolate them.

Business Affairs 

    Cooling food prices send India's retail inflation to lowest since 2012
    • India's retail inflation eased to the lowest level in at least five years in May on cooling food prices, bolstering hopes for an interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) later this year.
      Consumer prices rose by an annual 2.18 percent last month, compared with a 2.99 percent gain in April, data released by the Ministry of Statistics showed on Monday.
      The rise was lower than the 2.60 percent forecast by economists in a Reuters poll, and was the lowest since India started publishing an economy-wide consumer price index in 2012.
      With headline inflation undershooting the RBI's mid-term target of 4 percent for the past seven months, pressure has mounted on the central bank to resume interest rate cuts to juice up economic growth that has hit the lowest level in more than two years.
      "This clearly shows that the (inflation) risk is on the downside," said Gaurav Dua, research head at brokerage Sharekhan Ltd in Mumbai. "This opens up a scope for rate cut in August."
      The policy repo rate has been on hold since October when the RBI lowered it by 25 basis points to 6.25 percent.
      At its policy review last week, the RBI left key interest rates unchanged, but lowered inflation projections and delivered a slightly less hawkish policy statement.
      The RBI now expects retail inflation to range between 2.0-3.5 percent between April and September, lower than its previous forecast of 4.5 percent, and 3.5-4.5 percent from October-March, down from 5 percent earlier.
      While falling commodity prices and a rally in the rupee, which has made imports cheaper, have tamped down price pressures, the biggest comfort policymakers are drawing is the forecast of a normal monsoon this summer.
      Retail food prices fell 1.05 percent last month from a year ago, compared with a 0.61 percent gain in April.
      That prospect, however, will not cheer millions of India's debt-ridden farmers who are struggling with low prices amid a glut of produce such as lentils, oilseeds and cereals.
      Further falls in prices could compound their woes and fuel discontent that has triggered protests in the big agrarian states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where police shot dead five protesting farmers last week.

    GST Council cuts tax rate on gold jewellery making charges to 5%
    • In what could be a huge relief for jewellery and diamond processing industry before India's biggest tax reform kicks in from July 1, the Goods and Service Tax (GST) Council reduced the applicable rate on making charges from 18 per cent to just 5 per cent.
      "The GST Council has received 133 representations. An officers' committee made recommendations after studying these representations. The GST Council has reduced the tax levels in 66 out these 133 cases. The diamond processing and others would attract a levy of five per cent now," Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said while addressing a press conference after 16th GST meeting.
      Earlier, All India Gem and Jewellery Federation, the India Bullion and Jewellers Association (IBJA), and other trade representatives had pressed for lower taxes on jewellery making charges.
      Currently, tax is exempted on jewellery making charges. Early this month, the GST Council meeting had fixed GST on precious metals and diamonds, including jewellery, at 3 per cent. However, tax on making charges of jewellery was kept at 18 per cent.
      Tax on making charges would have in turn raised tax for consumers to over 4 per cent, almost double of what was being currently charged in the form of 1 per cent each on VAT and excise on jewellery.
      Among the items on which the GST rates have been reduced by the GST Council include cashew nut, sauces, pickles, insulin, children's colouring and drawing books, cutlery.
      GST rates were also revised for computer printers, tractor components. Cinema tickets under Rs 100 would be taxed at 18 percent, while above Rs 100 would be charged at Rs 28 percent.

    Buses to Pakistan, Bangladesh exempted from IGST
    • The buses plying on the Delhi-Lahore and Kolkata-Dhaka routes for transporting passengers as well as fuel they use will be exempt from levy of Integrated-GST (IGST).
      Trucks, tankers, vessels and containers will not be required to pay inter-state Goods and Services Tax, called IGST in the new regime as the GST Council exempted any mode of conveyance for carrying goods or passengers or for their repairs from the levy.
      At the meeting of the Council yesterday, the Centre and states decided to exempt from IGST import of passenger bus and any spares, fuel and consumables for the bus service from New Delhi to Lahore or between Kolkata and Dhaka.
      Integrated GST (IGST) is a tax which will be levied by the Centre on inter-state movement of goods and services. It is not a new tax since the credit for IGST payment can be claimed while paying Central GST (CGST) or State GST (SGST).
      The GST Council has decided to exempt from IGST the inter-state movement of any mode of conveyance from one location to another of the same entity. The mode of conveyance include trains, buses, trucks, tankers, trailers, vessels and containers.
      It said that it would exempt the conveyance used for carrying goods or passengers or both or for repairs and maintenance.
      PwC Leader (Indirect Tax) Pratik Jain said the exemption would help the industry from cash flow perspective as GST will not be required to be paid on such movement.
      "In particular, it would help transportation, construction and such other sectors which are capital intensive," Jain said.
      The GST Council yesterday reduced tax rates on 66 items including kitchen staples like pickles and mustard sauce, agarbatti, computer printers, cashews, children drawing books and school bags. Industry had demanded revision on 133 goods.
      While it has cut the tax rate on salt to zero from 5 per cent, for coir mats and floor covering it has been cut to 5 per cent from the earlier proposed 12 per cent.
      Besides, GST rate on raisins have been lowered to 5 per cent from 12 per cent while tax rates on curry paste, mayonnaise and salad dressings, mixed condiments and mixed seasonings have been reduced to 18 per cent from 28 per cent.
      The GST Council has also increased the turnover limit for businesses to avail the composition scheme for CGST and SGST purposes from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 75 lakh in respect of all eligible registered persons.
      Under the composition scheme, traders, manufacturers and eateries with turnover up to Rs 75 lakh can pay taxes at 1, 2, and 5 per cent rates respectively.
      The Council in its next meeting on June 18 would discuss the threshold limit for traders in special category states.
      As per the Central GST (CGST) Act, the Council can decide to allow traders with turnover up to Rs 1 crore to avail the composition scheme.
      The GST Council, chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and comprising state counterparts, have over the last three weeks fixed tax rates on over 1,200 goods and 500 services in the tax bracket of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent.

    Sensex falls over 100 points, Nifty slips in trade
    • The Indian benhmark indices nosedived at the strike of the opening bell in this week's trade on the back of weak global markets and investor reaction to the GST Council's meeting on Sunday where it reduced the rates for 66 items.
      Indian indices recouped early losses to finish marginally higher on Friday after global markets took the inconclusive UK election result as well as former FBI Director James Comey's Senate testimony in their stride.
      At 9.32 am, the BSE Sensex was trading at 31,154, falling 107.50 points (0.34%) while the NSE Nifty was trading at 9,635, down 32.60 points (0.34%).
      Globally, a negative trend prevailed ahead of US Federal Reserve's 2-day meet where investors anticipate a hike in interest rates.
      On the BSE, Adani Ports, Wipro and State Bank of India were top laggards. The index was led by Mahindra and Mahindra gaining 1.75 per cent followed by Tata Steel, up 1.19 per cent.
      On the NSE, Wipro was the top loser while M&M was the top gainer.
      Macroeconomic data
      The IIP, manufacturing & Inflation data's are expected to roll out today which will throw light on the economic activities taking shape in our country.
      "Going ahead banking stocks are likely to remain positive as RBI has cut the SLR, which will certainly infuse more liquidity into the banking system, ultimately increasing the credit off take," says Abnish Kumar Sudhanshu, Director & Research Head, Amrapali Aadya Trading & Investments.
      "We believe indices to remain traded on the positive note keeping the focus on Banking, non-banking finance companies, reality and fertilizer stocks," he adds. 

    Modi visit to US: H1B visa to come up in talks with Trump on June 26
    • In his first visit to the US after the new administration took over, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold talks with President Donald Trump on June 26 on a range of issues, including India's concerns over possible changes in H1B visas.
      Announcing the visit from June 25, the external affairs ministry today said the Modi-Trump discussions will provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement.
      This will be the first meeting between the two leaders, the ministry added.
      "Prime Minister will hold official talks with President Trump on June 26. Their discussions will provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest and consolidation of multi-dimensional strategic partnership between India and the US," the ministry said.
      During her annual press conference last week, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said Modi will raise the issue with Trump.
      Regional security situation including Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and other international issues are expected to figure prominently during the meeting between the two leaders.

    General Awareness

    India emerges as 7th largest exporter of agri-products globally – Commerce Secretary

    • At 22nd Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) Annual Award Function in New Delhi on June 12, 2017, Commerce Secretary Mrs Rita Teaotia, mentioned that India has emerged as 7th largest exporter of agri-products globally.
      Overview of Agri-products exports from India:
      Total merchandise exports during 2016-17 stood at $276.28 billion out of which agri exports comprised of $33.38 billion, representing 08% of the total exports.
      • Exports of food products from India surged significantly during this period.
      • As highlighted by APEDA, exports of food products stood at $16.28 billion representing 48.77% of Agri exports from the country.
      • Vietnam, UAE, Saudi Arabia, USA, Iran, Iraq and Nepal are the major destinations for export of food products from India.
      About Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA):
      APEDA is an apex body under Union Ministry of Commerce entrusted with the role to promote the export of agricultural commodities and processed food products.
      • It links Indian exporters to global markets and also provides comprehensive export oriented services.22nd Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) Annual Award
      • APEDA provides referral services and suggests suitable partners for joint ventures.
      • Ethnic Indian products like pickles, chutneys, sauces, curries etc. as well as rice, honey, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, beverages, guar gum, poultry, livestock products, confectionery, cut flowers, food grains, aromatic plants and other Indian delicacies comprises APEDA’s export basket.
      22nd APEDA Awards:
      APEDA presented 82 awards to Indian Agro and Processed Food exporters for distinguished export services during years 2014-15 and 2015-16.
      • The awards were presented in three categories viz. Diamond (2 awards), Gold (33 awards) Silver (29 awards) and Bronze (18 awards).

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