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Current Affairs - 07 August 2017

General Affairs 

Amarnath terror attack: 3 held, Lashkar militants used code names Shaukat, Bilal for yatri, CRPF vehicles
  • The Jammu and Kashmir Police today confirmed that the July 10 Amarnath terror attack was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). "Lashkar was involved and accused have been identified," said Inspector General (IG), Kashmir Range, Munir Khan.
    Addressing a press conference in Anantnag today, IG, Kashmir, said that three overground workers of Lashkar-e-Taiba have been arrested. In police parlance, overground workers are militants without weapons, or local facilitators.
    "Accused people who provided them (LeT militants) logistics to carry out their plans in the state and work as their guides have been identified," said IG, Kashmir. Those arrested by the police are Bilal Ahmad Reshi, Aijaz Ahmad Wagay and Zahoor Ahmad Shah.
    "Happy to tell you that three accused persons have been arrested and they have completely revealed everything," said IG Munir Khan.
    He said that the arrested accused have been produced before the court and have remanded in police custody.
    The officer said that three Pakistan-based militants and a local Lashkar militant carried out the Amarnath terror attack that killed eight civilians.These include LeT commander in Kashmir Abu Ismail, Abu Mavia and Yawar Bashir.
    IG, Kashmir said that the terror attack was initially planned for July 9 but there was no movement of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) or pilgrim vehicle in isolation that day.
    "There was a yatri vehicle that day (which was crossing the stretch) so they attacked it. Had there been a CRPF vehicle, they would have attacked it. They (terrorists) had planned it," said IG, Kashmir, Munir Khan.
    Calling the attack on Amarnath pilgrims a "terrorist act", the officer said that militants had code names for a yatri vehicle--Shaukat--and for a CRPF vehicle--Bilal.
    IG, Kashmir said that two Lashkar-e-Taiba militants have been eliminated a few days ago and their involvement in the Amarnath terror attack is being investigated.
    The officer said that police are close to nabbing the militants involved in the Amarnath terror attack. "Hopefully, we will be neutralising militants soon... It can be today, tomorrow," said IG, Kashmir, Munir Khan.

China may conduct military operation to expel India from Doklam, Chinese daily warns
  • The hawkish Chinese daily Global Times again raised the rhetoric over the Doklam faceoff this weekend, quoting two 'experts' to say that the People's Liberation Army could soon launch a "small-scale military operation" to "expel" Indian soldiers from the standoff site.
    "The series of remarks from the Chinese side within a 24-hour period sends a signal to India that there is no way China will tolerate the Indian troops' incursion into Chinese territory for too long. If India refuses to withdraw, China may conduct a small-scale military operation within two weeks," the English-language daily quoted Hu Zhiyong as saying.
    Hu's comments about the "remarks from the Chinese side" referred to a series of statements released by Beijing on the Doklam standoff, which has now neared the two-month mark. China last week also released an exhaustive 15-page document in which it sought to project India as the aggressor and, once again, demanded an ""immediate and unconditional withdrawal" of Indian troops from the Doklam plateau.
    Since mid-June, soldiers from the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army have been facing off, reportedly just 100-150 meters away from each other, on  the Doklam plateau, an area disputed between Beijing and Thimpu. The faceoff began after Indian troops, reportedly at the request of their Bhutanese counterparts, intervened to stop the PLA from constructing a metal road in the region.
    China has since then accused India of trespassing into its sovereign territory and has angrily demanded that Indian Army troops stand down. New Delhi, which has refused to back off, has largely been quiet, indicating that behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvre are being made to defuse the high-stakes standoff.
    Beijing has angrily responded to the Dolkam standoff but has kept the war rhetoric to a minimum. Chinese state media, however, has not been as subtle with some publications, especially the Global Times, engaging in unusual sabre rattling.
    In its latest piece, Global Times quotes two experts to suggest that the Doklam standoff could escalate to a military conflict between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.
    While Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that the PLA might launch an operation in a matter of weeks, another expert, Zhao Gancheng, said that the patience of China and its people is "wearing thin". Zhao is identified as the director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
    Hu, on the other hand, also goes on to squarely blame India for the current crisis. "India, which has stirred up the incident, should bear all the consequences. And no matter how the standoff ends, Sino-Indian ties have been severely damaged and strategic distrust will linger," Hu is quoted as saying. "India has adopted an immature policy toward China in recent years. Its development is not at the same level as China's. It only wants to seek disputes in an area which originally has no disputes to gain bargaining chips."

Bullet train launch on fast track, PM Narendra Modi to lay foundation stone next month
  • Expect the country's first bullet train project to roll down the tracks at a rapid pace. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe will together lay the foundation stone of the 508-km corridor between Ahmedabad and Mumbai during the Japanese premier's visit to India in September.
    Sources said the groundbreaking ceremony will be performed in Ahmedabad keeping in view the Gujarat assembly polls slated for November-December this year. They said the bullet train project will be showcased as the biggest achievement of Modi who will start the project from his home state.
    Also, the BJP will be going to polls with the PM as the party's face in the state. It takes about seven hours to travel on rail between the two cities and the bullet train aims to reduce it to about two hours.
    To ensure the dream project does not get delayed, Indian Railways is all set to hire a consultant who will look into land acquisition and other financial issues. It will be the responsibility of the consultant to see that full compensation is paid to every land owner and also ensure jobs to their family members, said a senior railway board official dealing with the bullet train project.
    The initial detailed project report (DPR) prepared by the Japanese authorities, which is providing technical assistance to Indian Railways, suggested constructing a major portion of the corridor on surface. But the DPR was modified to take the elevated route primarily to avoid delays.
    As officials put it, the change would do away with legal and environmental hurdles regarding land acquisition. PM Modi too has been pushing his ministers to speed up the big ticket projects that have often encountered legal barriers in several states.
    According to a railway ministry official, approximately 850 hectares of land would be required for the bullet train project. Since the project was earlier planned on surface, it would have required more land.
    This, however, would escalate the project cost, sources said. "The consultant would prepare a comprehensive report on the quantity of land to be acquired and its socioeconomic impact. The consultant will maintain a record of the trade and industries that will be affected due to land acquisition. Accordingly, the compensation along with job to the affected families will be ensured," a top railway official said.
    For an elevated corridor, compensation amount to land owners will be little. Also, it will ensure speedy execution of the project. Already more than 440 rail projects are stuck over land acquisition. This, according to a CAG report of 2015, has resulted in cost overrun of 1.07 lakh crore.
    Railways also faced major hurdles in acquiring land for its ambitious dedicated freight corridors that will significantly decongest the railway network and increase the speed of passenger trains. Officials said while the Indian Railways will acquire the financial assistance and bullet train technology from Japan, it will ensure maximum job opportunities to Indian companies in construction of the project.
    Out of the 508 km length, 450 km of work will be awarded to Indian companies while only 52 km will be given to Japanese companies. Further, work on seven km of under-sea rail track will be open for foreign players as Indian does not have the technology for constructing under-sea rail tunnel so far.
    India's bullet train, at the speed of 320 km per hour, will match the speed of the leading high-speed train systems across the world. The project will cost approximately`1 lakh crore and the funding of the project is being done by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Railway officials said the actual work on project would begin by 2018 and the work will be completed by 2023.

SC rejects plea of woman 'abused' at Puducherry's Aurobindo Ashram
  • Allegations of sexual harassment of inmates and financial misappropriation in Puducherry's Aurobindo Ashram came to the fore once again when the Supreme Court rejected the plea of a woman 'victim' to become party in a pending PIL seeking judicial probe into the 'murky' affairs of the spiritual centre.
    "Heard the applicant who has appeared in person. No ground for accepting the prayer for impleadment is made out. The petition is accordingly dismissed. However, liberty is granted to the applicant to initiate proceedings if the applicant is so advised in her own right," the bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar said.
    The woman was one of the five sisters who along with their parents had jumped into the sea on December 20, 2014, two days after the SC ruled that they be evicted from the Ashram. The institution had earlier expelled them in 2001 for allegedly 'violating rules'.
    Two sisters and her mother had died. But the three other sisters and their father were pulled out of the sea by fishermen. One of them wanted to become a party in a PIL filed by Gayatri Satpathy, who sought judicial probe into the probe complaints of sexual harassment against members. The SC had also said that such a panel if formed may also probe other irregularities, including misappropriation of funds.
    Senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam who had represented the Ashram too had agreed for a probe saying, "We have never shied away from inquiry. We have no problem if a former judge is appointed to probe it. At the same time, we will like to make it clear that we are not admitting a single allegation. It is just that we want to put an end to the whole episode and come out clean."
    Though the issue had been boiling since 2001, things took an altogether new twist when the Centre informed the SC that it 'favoured an independent inquiry into the affairs of the Ashram'. "In view of serious allegations about sexual harassment of women and children in the Ashram, misappropriation of funds, illegal sale and lease of Ashram properties for personal gain by the managing trustee and the trustees of Shri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, through a number of complaints by inmates and the local MLA, it is necessary to get a fair inquiry conducted by an independent authority," the affidavit filed on Jan 13, 2015 by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who represented the Centre, stated.
    The Centre's stand is significant as several committees, government agencies and NHRC had probed the allegations and given the Ashram a clean chit. The NHRC had even concluded that 'there appeared to be malicious planning behind the complaints'.

Aslam Wani, close aide of Shabir Shah, arrested in money laundering case
  • Aslam Wani, a close aide of separatist leader Shabir Shah, was today arrested in Srinagar. Wani was arrested in connection with an Enforcement Directorate money laundering probe against Shah.
    Wani, who was arrested from Jammu and Kashmir, will be brought to Delhi later today. Today's development comes close on the heels of Shabir Shah's arrest on July 25.
    Both Shah and Wani have face criminal cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Wani (35), a suspected hawala dealer, was previously arrested by the Delhi Police in 2015. Wani had then claimed that he had passed on Rs 2.25 crore to Shabir Shah.
    Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency is running a parallel investigation into separatists raising, collecting and transferring funds through hawala and other channels for carrying out illegal activities - including acts of terror - in Kashmir.

Business Affairs

PNB customers to pay higher charges for non-credit services
  • From September, PNB customers will have to pay charges for depositing cash above Rs 5,000 in a non-base branch even if it is located in the same city.
    Currently, the customers of Punjab National Bank (PNB) are levied charges only for depositing cash over Rs 25,000 at a non-base branch within the same city.
    "It has been decided to revise the non-credit related charges (exclusive of GST) with effect from September 1, 2017 for cash deposit above Rs 5,000 at other than base branch within the same city," PNB said in a communication to customers.
    A customer will have to pay Re 1 per Rs 1,000 for above Rs 5,000 cash deposit or part thereof with a minimum of Rs 25 per transaction.
    At an outstation branch, cash deposit up to Rs 5,000 will be free of cost from September 1, which at present is limited for Rs 25,000.
    While, for above Rs 5,000 cash deposit at outstation branch, the bank will levy Rs 2 per Rs 1,000 or part thereof with a minimum of Rs 25 per transaction.
    The bank has also revised upwards the cheque returning charges for a payment of above Rs 1 crore to Rs 2,000 for first cheque and Rs 2,500 for subsequent bounces.
    Currently, for a cheque return of above Rs 1 crore, the charges are Rs 1,000 for first cheque and Rs 1,500 for subsequent instances.
    At the same time, the bank has steeply raised the locker facility charges in metro branches for different types of lockers.
    The locker rent is being raised by 25 per cent for small, medium, large and extra large sizes to Rs 1,500, Rs 3,500, Rs 5,500 and Rs 10,000, respectively, for metro branches.
    Earlier such charges were Rs 1,200, Rs 2,800, Rs 4,500 and Rs 8,000, respectively.
    Besides, PNB will levy a premium of 25 per cent of the locker rent in 22 identified branches, 19 of which are in Delhi, one in Gurgaon and two in Faridabad.
    The Delhi branches are: Jangpura Extension, South Extension, GK II, Kalkaji, Sahkaurbasti, Krishna Nagar, Preet Vihar, Suraj Mal Vihar, Model Town, Mall Road, Patparganj, Madhuban, Vikaspuri, Sector 12A Dwarka, Sector 12 Dwarka, Dwarka, New Rajinder Nagar, Punjabi Bagh and Rajauri Garden.
    Of others, Gurgaon Sector 4, Sector 37 Faridabad and Old Faridabad are the branches to attract a 25 per cent premium on locker rentals.
    All the charges are exclusive of Goods and Services Tax (GST) which came into effect from July 1 this year and attract a charge of 18 per cent, up 15 per cent from previous tax regime charges.

12 PSU banks firming plans to raise funds from markets
  • As many as 12 public sector banks including PNB, Bank of India and Indian Bank have lined up plans for raising funds from markets to shore up their capital base to meet global risk norm, Basel III.
    About 6-7 lenders including Andhra Bank expect to close their capital raising plan by the end of the current fiscal, sources said.
    The remaining would raise funds through follow on public offer (FPO) or Qualified Institutional Placement (QIP) from the market during course of the next fiscal, they added.
    Lenders including Allahabad Bank, Andhra Bank, Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Dena Bank, IDBI Bank, Indian Bank and Punjab National Bank (PNB) have already got permission from the government to raise capital from the market through QIP or FPO or preferential allotment.
    Similarly, Syndicate Bank, UCO Bank, United Bank of India, Vijaya Bank also got approval from the government and some of them have already started the process.
    For example, Allahabad Bank has already obtained shareholders' nod in order to raise equity capital aggregating up to Rs 2,000 crore through different modes like QIP, FPO or a rights issue.
    Board of PNB has given its approval for raising equity capital to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore through FPO, QIP or rights issue.
    At the same time, Dena Bank also obtained shareholders' nod to offer equity shares aggregating up to Rs 1,800 crore to QIP at such issue prices including premium with face value of Rs 10 each.
    As per the Indradhanush roadmap, public sector banks need to raise Rs 1.10 lakh crore from markets, including follow-on public offer, to meet Basel III requirements, which kick in from March 2019.
    This will be over and above the Rs 70,000 crore that banks will get as capital support from the government. Of this, the government has already infused Rs 50,000 crore in the past two fiscals and the remaining will be pumped in by the end of 2018-19.
    In June, SBI raised Rs 15,000 crore by selling 52.2 crore shares through QIP, the largest share sale in the secondary market by a bank.
    SBI said the total proceeds of the issue will be used to augment its capital adequacy ratio and for general corporate purposes.

Flexi fare on Rajdhani, Shatabdi brings Indian Railways bonus income of Rs 540 cr
  • The Railways has earned an additional revenue of Rs 540 crore in less than a year through the flexi fare scheme and there is no plan to discontinue it, a senior ministry official said.
    The scheme, launched on September 9 last year, is applicable in Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto trains, allowing 10 per cent of the seats to be sold at normal fare and thereafter increasing it by 10 per cent with every 10 per cent of berths sold with a ceiling of 50 per cent.
    "We have earned money from flexi fare and there is no reason why we should discontinue it. In fact, we have gained 85,000 additional passengers in these trains since we launched the scheme, showing that even passengers are not averse to the scheme," said a senior official of the ministry.
    The official told PTI that from September 2016-June 30, 2017, the Railways earned an additional revenue of Rs 540 crore.
    The scheme, which officials say will be continuously reviewed, saw a revision last December after the Railways took note of vacant seats in such trains.
    The Railways made changes in the flexi fare structure to attract last minute travellers and introduced a range of discounts.
    The 30 per cent tatkal charges have been waived for these premium trains, a 10 per cent rebate on basic fare has been offered on vacant berths after preparation of first chart in Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto to lure last minute travellers, provision of tatkal quota has been reduced to 10 per cent from 30 per cent of the total berths available and there is also a provision for discounted fares for some trains.
    "The scheme now comes with a lot of discounts for passengers and it is a success. However, there is always scope for more reviews," the official added.
    The numbers show a positive trend - during September 2016-June 2017, Duronto trains earned Rs 140 crore more than the amount earned in the same period last year while Shatabdi trains earned Rs 120 crore more.
    There are total 42 Rajdhani trains, 46 Shatabdi and 54 Duronto trains.
    "Just to give an indication of how much the railways is expected to gain from the scheme - we have earned an additional revenue of Rs 240 crore from April-June this year, which is around Rs 80 crore additional revenue per month. This comes to around Rs 960 crore per annum. These are good signs," the official said. 

IOC chalks out plan to double refining capacity by 2030
  • State-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) plans to nearly double oil refining capacity to 150 mt by 2030 and source 10 per cent of the need from its own assets, said Chairman Sanjiv Singh.
    India's largest oil firm possesses refining capacity to produce 80.7 million tonnes per annum of fuel.
    "In line with India's aspirations to become a refining hub, IOC plans to raise its refining capacity from the current 80.7 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) to around 150 mtpa by 2030, through both brownfield expansions and greenfield capacity creation," he said in the company's latest annual report.
    These include a 60 mt integrated refinery-cum- petrochemical project on the west coast IOC is implementing with BPCL and HPCL at a cost of Rs 2.7 lakh crore, he added.
    IOC has 50 per cent stake in the project.
    International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook projects 4 per cent CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) in India's fuel demand to 348 mt by 2030, from 194 mt in 2016-17.
    BP projects demand to be 335 mt while US EIA has pegged it at 294 mt.
    India has a refining capacity of 232.06 mt.
    "As part of its quest to become an integrated energy major, IOC is expanding its upstream portfolio of domestic and overseas oil and gas blocks to be able to source at least 10 per cent of its crude oil requirements from its own assets in the medium term," Singh said.
    IOC has stake in eight domestic and nine overseas oil and gas blocks in Libya, Gabon, Nigeria, Yemen, Venezuela, Russia, Canada and the US.
    It has fuel retailing and terminal operation in Sri Lanka and Mauritius and is looking at entry into other emerging markets in South-East Asia and Africa, with overseas offices coming up in Singapore, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
    The brownfield expansions include Rs 15,034 crore plan to raise capacity of Koyali refinery in Gujarat to 18 mt, from the current 13.7 mt. Capacity of the Panipat refinery in Haryana will be raised by a quarter to 20.2 mt, from the current 15 mt.
    A 3-mt capacity addition each is planned in Uttar Pradesh's Mathura and Bihar's Barauni refineries, which will take their capacity to 11 mt and 9 mt, respectively.
    The recently-commissioned 15 mt Paradip refinery in Odisha will see a capacity addition of 5 mt while about 3 mt will be added in IOC's Digboi and Bongaigaon refineries in the North-East.
    He, however, did not give investment details of the expansions that will take the capacity to 150 mt.
    Singh said IOC plans to commission its 5 mt a year LNG import terminal at Ennore in Tamil Nadu in early 2018.

Sebi goes all-out to up cyber security, plans to hire advisor
  • To firewall securities markets from cyber threats, Sebi is looking to further beef up policy framework on this front and plans to appoint an advisor for such security and other IT initiatives.
    Sebi has already asked stock exchanges and other institutions to keep a constant vigil on online threats globally and take lessons to put in place necessary safeguards.
    The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) will appoint an advisor for cyber security and information technology, who will be responsible for strengthening its regulatory policy framework in this space, according to the latest update with the regulator.
    The advisor would monitor implementation of these regulatory policies across securities markets and also help enhance capacity building at Sebi and various market participants with respect to cyber security.
    The officer would also develop a stress testing mechanism to mitigate risks arising out of cyber attacks while a framework will be put in place for taking correctives and a prudent response in case of such an emergency at the regulator or market participants.
    The advisor would also observe developments in cyber technology and security space and prepare inputs for regulatory policy development. The officer would also formulate IT strategy and identify specific initiatives and a 5-year road map.
    Sebi has invited applications from eligible persons for the post of Advisor, Cyber Security and Information Technology, who will need at least 10-15 years of experience in cyber security/IT, audit of IT systems, assessment and implementation of business continuity and disaster recovery programs and development of critical IT systems.
    The person should have experience at a fairly senior level as head of a large unit of an IT company or an IT unit of a bank, financial institution or market infrastructure institution. The advisor will be appointed on 'contract and part time basis' for three years.
    Sebi, in May, had set up a four-member panel on cyber security to suggest measures to ring fence capital markets from such attacks.
    Last month, the regulator said it will undertake a comprehensive review of technology and systems at all market institutions, including exchanges, to safeguard the marketplace from cyber threats and technical glitches.
    Sebi had held a meeting with the stock exchanges on July 28 against the backdrop of the recent case of technical glitch at leading bourse NSE, due to which trading had to be halted for over three hours on July 10.

General Awareness

L&T signs first EPC contract with Indian Railways

  • On August 4, 2017, Indian Railways signed its firstEngineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract with L&T for large electrification projects. Including this contract, Railways Ministry has signed total nine EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) contracts for electrification of railway lines at a cost of Rs. 2,800 crore.
    Background Information:
    Signing of EPC contracts is part of a strategy to speed up the electrification of railway lines. Currently, only 42% of the lines are electrified.
    • Consequential to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target to double this in five years, this year’s Budget had announced the Railways would tap the EPC route for expediting electrification projects.
    • Moreover, as per Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) audit report on ‘Electrification Projects in Indian Railways’, the Indian Railways lost savings to the tune of Rs 3,006 crore on account of delays in execution of 21 railways electrification projects out of 29 projects which were examined.
    Details about EPC Contracts Signed by Indian Railway:
    The first EPC contract worth Rs. 1,050 crore was awarded to private sector engineering major L&T for electrifying 781 route kilometres.
    • This contract has been awarded for electrification of Delhi Sarai Rohilla – Rewari and Alwr – Bandikui – Jaipur – Phulera – Ajmer (353 km) section at a cost of Rs 594 crore and Roha – Verna (428 km) of Konkan Railway at a cost of Rs. 456 crore.
    • Besides, eight other agreements were also exchanged between Zonal Railways and Public Sector Undertakings for 1,735 km of electrification projects valuing Rs 1,746 crore.
    • The Railways expects to cut its fuel bill by Rs. 3,300 crore annually by 2020-21, when electrification of 90% of all broad gauge tracks will be completed.
    • Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said the electrification mission, unveiled in November 2016, was not just about energy saving but also modernisation of Indian Railways.

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