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Current Affairs - 21 September 2017

General Affairs 

Will High Fuel Prices Pay For Bullet Train Loan, Shiv Sena Asks Centre
  • The Shiv Sena today attacked the Centre over fuel price hikes and asked if rates had been kept high despite a slump in global crude oil prices to pay for interest on the loan taken from Japan for the bullet train project.

    Two days ago, Shiv Sena, a constituent of the ruling NDA at the Centre and in Maharashtra, had said high fuel prices were the main reason for suicides by farmers in the country.

    "Those in the government are not ready to speak on inflation and do not want others to talk as well. The common man is bearing the brunt of fuel prices going through the roof. If people in government support the 20 times hike in fuel prices in the last four months, it is not correct," an editorial in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana said today.

    The party had earlier decried Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam's remarks on fuel price hikes as an "insult" to the poor and the middle class, and alleged that those with no merit and no connect with the people were ruling the nation.

    "Who buys petrol? Somebody who has a car or bike. Certainly he's not starving. People who can afford to pay should pay," Mr Kannanthanam had said.

    According to the Saamana editorial today, those saying that the previous government was better than the present one were termed guilty.

    "During the UPA regime, crude oil prices were 130 dollars a barrel, yet petrol and diesel prices were never increased more than Rs. 70 and Rs. 53 per litre respectively. Yet the opposition hit the streets to protest the high prices and even disrupted the Parliament," it said.

    "Today crude oil prices are at 49.89 dollars a barrel. Yet, people are not getting the benefits of low prices. Instead, petrol is being sold at Rs. 80 and diesel at Rs. 63 per litre. This is like looting the people," Shiv Sena alleged. In other countries, petrol was sold at half the rate, the Sena said.

    Adding that the Japan government had given a loan to the government for the bullet train project, it asked, "Are these high prices of fuel being imposed on the people to recover the interest amount?" The prices of cooking gas had increased by about 15 times in the last one year, it claimed.

    "In the Congress regime, cooking gas prices never went beyond Rs. 320 per cylinder. Today, an LPG cylinder costs Rs. 785. The prime minister wants to give us a bullet train, that is his dream. But today, people do not have enough money to fill two litres petrol in their scooters and cars," Shiv Sena said.

    On the one hand, it said, the rich would get a bullet train; on the other, the common man would have to travel by bullock carts as they would not be able to afford vehicles anymore.

All Indians Are Safe In Mexico: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
  • All Indians are safe in Mexico which was rocked by powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that claimed 225 lives, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said last night.

    "I have spoken to our Ambassador in Mexico. All Indians are safe," Ms Swaraj tweeted.

    Ms Swaraj, who is in New York for the 72nd annual session of the UN General Assembly, said India stands with Mexico in this hour of grief.

    "My deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in the second earthquake in Mexico," she said.

    At least 225 people were killed when a powerful 7.1- magnitude earthquake struck Mexico, including 21 children crushed beneath an elementary school that was reduced to rubble.

    The destruction revived horrific memories in Mexico on the anniversary of another massive earthquake in 1985, the disaster-prone country's deadliest ever.

India Gets Its First High Horse Power Locomotive From France
  • India's dream for high horse power locomotive moved closer to reality with the arrival of the first bodyshell of 12000 HP loco from Alstom France at Kolkata port on Wednesday.

    This first-of-its-kind high-power electric locomotive will be used to haul freight trains at twice the existing speed by next year.

    The bodyshell for the fleet of the twin-section electric locomotives which Alstom is to supply to Indian Railways was unloaded at Haldia, ready for delivery to the factory at Madhepura where it will be assembled.

    In November 2015, the public transporter inked a contract with the French company to manufacture 800 such train engines over the next 11 years in a joint venture at the Madhepura locomotive factory in Bihar.

    This is the first major FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) project in the rail sector.

    The first such locomotive, estimated to cost about Rs. 30 crore, will be assembled with components brought in from Alstom's factories in France and will have its trial run by February next year.

    The contract allows for the first five locomotives to be imported, but the remaining 795 are to be manufactured locally in support of the government's Make in India campaign.

    The total contract is worth above three billion euro.

    This project includes the set-up of a plant at Madhepura (Bihar state) and two maintenance depots at Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh state)and Nagpur (Maharashtra state). The delivery of the locomotives will spread between 2018 and 2028.

    The locomotive will run at a speed up to 120 km/h.

    The Railways is currently using 6,000HP locomotives for freight services. The increase in speed would also result in improving line capacity in the rail network, a railway official said.

    As per schedule, 35 locomotives would be rolled out from the factory by 2020, 60 in 2021, followed by 100 every year till the target of 800 is completed.

Soldier Killed In Unprovoked Firing By Pak Across LoC In Jammu And Kashmir's Keran Sector
  • A soldier was killed as Pakistani troops opened fire at an Army patrol along the Line of Control in Keran sector of Jammu and Kashmir today.

    An Army official said that "necessary and adequate" response has been given to the Pakistani firing.

    "Pakistani troops resorted to unprovoked firing along the Line of Control in the early hours today. One soldier was injured in the incident," the Army official said.

    The injured jawan was airlifted to a hospital in Srinagar where he succumbed to injuries.

India Ready To Work Above And Beyond Paris Climate Deal: Sushma Swaraj
  • India has reaffirmed its commitment to the landmark Paris climate change agreement, saying it is willing to "work above and beyond" the pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during a UN 'Leadership Summit on Environment Pact', said that India had been at the forefront of the debate on environment and development.

    Her remarks came amid uncertainty over the US role in the deal after President Donald Trump in June announced that America was withdrawing from the Paris deal, arguing that it gives undue advantage to countries like India and China.

    India along with more than 190 nations reached a pact in December 2015 with an aim to prevent an increase in the global average temperature and keep it well below 2 degrees Celsius.

    The deal, which replaced the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was ratified last October.

    Participating in the UN meet hosted by Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Ms Swaraj said India was willing to work "above and beyond" the Paris agreement.

    "Understanding our responsibility towards planet Earth," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

    The summit was presided by French President Emmanuel Macron. India takes the climate change issue very seriously, Mr Kumar said.

    "We also mentioned that Indian and France are working together on international Solar Alliance," he said.

    During the day, Ms Swaraj had a series of bilateral meetings with leaders from Mexico, Norway and Belgium wherein focus was primarily on bilateral relations. She also called on Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth.

    "There were some discussions on the possibility of a high-level visit from Belgium to India later this year," Mr Kumar said. Later in the evening, Ms Swaraj attended a reception hosted by the British Prime Minister Theresa May for the Commonwealth Heads of Government delegations.

    Ms Swaraj is scheduled to hold meetings with her counterparts from San Marino, Brazil, Morocco, Moldova and call on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

    She is also scheduled to participate in several multilateral meetings including that of the G-4 (Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers.

Business Affairs

Chabahar Port to be operational by 2018-end, says Nitin Gadkari
  • The government is hopeful that the strategic Chabahar Port in Iran will be operational by the end of 2018, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said.
    He further said that the port would be a "win win" situation for India, Iran and Afghanistan as it would serve as a "growth engine" for the entire region.
    Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Balochistan province in the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation's southern coast, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India's western coast, bypassing Pakistan.
    "We are hopeful of starting operations at Chabahar Port by the end of 2018. It will be a win-win situation for India, Iran and Afghanistan as trade and business through this route could reach to even Russia and Europe," Shipping, Road Transport, Highways and Water Resources Minister Gadkari said at an event here.
    "India can be a big market for Iran and investors from here can invest there," Gadkari said adding that Iran is expected to send an application to the EXIM Bank of India for providing first tranche of loan from the USD 150 million credit line.
    For greater trade and investment flow with Iran and neighbouring countries, the Cabinet last year cleared proposals for development of Chabahar port including a USD 150 million credit from Exim Bank.
    It also authorised the shipping ministry to form a company in Iran for implementing the Chabahar Port Development Project and related activities.
    As per the MoU signed between the two nations in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of USD 85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of USD 22.95 million on a 10-year lease.
    Ownership of the equipment will be transferred to the Iranian side on completion of 10 years or for an extended period, based on mutual agreement. The Iranian side had requested for provision of a credit of USD 150 million in accordance with the MoU.
    Gadkari said the contract for four key mounted quay cranes at Shahid Beheshti Port, Chabahar, has been finalised.
    The minister said bottlenecks for the project have been removed and work was likely to be fast-tracked.
    Last month, the minister had been to Tehran as a special envoy of India deputed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of the second tenure of Hassan Rouhani as the President of Iran.
    During his visit, both sides had reiterated their commitment to complete and operationalise the port at the earliest that would contribute to bilateral and regional trade and economic development and also provide alternate access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets.
    On trilateral transit and transport agreement, Gadkari said India is hopeful of commencement of the work soon.
    The trilateral pact was inked during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Tehran in May 2016.
    The pact envisages establishment of Transit and Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran besides multi-modal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations.
    The Cabinet and the President had ratified the pact in November and December, 2016 respectively.
    India has already built the Zaranj-Delaram Road in Afghanistan where the cargo reaching Zehedan can connect to.
    The rail route is aimed at connecting the existing rail network of Iran at Zahedan, and subsequently to Mashad in north area, thereby providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan through its connection to the Bafq- Mashad route.
    This project will significantly enhance the opportunity for trade and business among the nations.
    Chabahar-Zahedan Railway line project is located in the Sistan-Baluchistan province in eastern Iran.
    Besides, the bilateral pact to develop the Chabahar port, for which India will invest USD 500 million, a trilateral Agreement on Transport and Transit Corridor has also been signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.

Face of Tata group to change in next decade: Ratan Tata
  • The face of salt-to-software conglomerate Tata will change in the next 10 years as it moves forward with adopting new technologies and responds to the needs of a fast-growing nation, former chairman Ratan Tata said in a interview on Wednesday.
    Hinting at consolidation and possible divestments of certain businesses which once defined the group, Tata said the conglomerate may look very different in the next decade, although the 150-year-old group will always strive to retain its culture.
    "There will be companies who were not there earlier and companies that were there, not there 10 years from now, because they may not be relevant or they may be sold off or transferred to other companies," said Tata, who is currently chairman of the trusts that control two-thirds of holding company Tata Sons.
    Earlier on Wednesday, one of the conglomerate's oldest companies, Tata Steel (TISC.NS), and German rival Thyssenkrupp (TKAG.DE) agreed to merge their European steel assets, creating the continent's No. 2 steelmaker.
    It is important to retain the ethical fabric of the Tata group and its current chairman N. Chandrasekaran is the "right person" to steer the group in the right direction without losing its historical culture, he said.
    Chandra, as the current chairman is commonly called, earlier headed the group's most profitable company -- Tata Consultancy Services (TCS.NS). He was named head of Tata Sons, the holding company of the diversified group, in January three months after the surprise ousting of former chairman Cyrus Mistry.
    Mistry was fired after differences arose between him and Tata. Mistry had accused Ratan Tata and his associates in Tata Trusts of interference in the running of the various companies of the Tata group. Tata Sons, on the other hand, accused Mistry of failing to turn around ailing companies in the group after almost four years in charge.
    Tata said he is currently working towards the transformation of the Tata trusts to address the needs of India which requires technology, automation, healthcare and nutrition.
    Tata, 79, said he would continue to engage with start-ups and look for opportunities in younger companies backed by the vision and passion of their promoters.
    Tata personally has investments in some start-ups such as mobile wallet Paytm, e-commerce firm Snapdeal and ride-hailing service Ola.

Arun Jaitley says govt needs revenue for public spending; rules out excise duty cut on petrol
  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley ruled out possibility of any cut in excise duty on petrol and diesel to cushion the spike in rates, saying that the government needs revenue to support public spending without which growth will suffer. Jaitley also said the government is working on additional measures to bolster economy.
    States levy a high amount of sales tax or VAT on fuel, he said without referring to the Rs 11.77 per litre hike in excise duty on petrol and Rs 13.47 a litre on diesel between November 2014 and January 2016 which took away gains arising from plummeting international oil rates.
    BJP-ruled Maharashtra levies 46.52 per cent VAT (47.64 per cent in Mumbai) on petrol, the highest in the country. Andhra Pradesh has 38.82 per cent VAT on petrol while BJP- governed Madhya Pradesh levies 38.79 per cent VAT on the fuel.
    BJP-led NDA governs 18 out of the 29 states. Jaitley said however that the fuel prices will settle down soon.
    "You should remember that the government needs revenue to run. How will you build highways?," he said. "The government has increased public spending on infrastructure. Whatever (GDP) growth is there, it is fueled by public spending and FDI. If public spending is slashed, it will mean cutting down expenditure on social sector scheme."
    There is hardly any private investment, he said. He was responding to questions from reporters at the weekly Cabinet meeting on whether the government would consider cutting excise duty.
    Petrol price has risen by Rs 7.44 per litre since early July to cost Rs 70.52 a litre in Delhi, the highest in three years. Diesel rates have gone up by Rs 5.35 to Rs 58.79 a litre in Delhi.
    As much as Rs 21.48 per litre in price of petrol in Delhi is due to excise duty and another Rs 14.99 is due to VAT.
    "You have to consider many factors. The hurricane in the US, the refining capacity has been impacted to a large extent.
    Due to this there is demand supply mis-match, there is a temporary spike," he said on the reasons for the recent rise in rates.
    Jaitley said that of the tax that central government collects from petroleum product, 42 per cent goes to states. "Then Congress and CPM government should say they don't need taxes from that," he said.
    He asked how much tax was opposition ruled state levying.
    "You should remember, when oil prices used to be reviewed on fortnightly basis two years ago, government in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Himanchal Pradesh used to increase the VAT with the same quantum with which petrol prices used to be reduced in the review," he said.
    Haryana has been under BJP rule since 2014 and BJP-Akali Dal alliance was in government in Punjab till March this year.
    Delhi and Himachal Pradesh levy 27 per cent VAT on petrol while Punjab has 36.04 per cent VAT. Haryana levies 26.25 per cent VAT.
    The government in June junked 15-year practice of fortnightly revision in rates and moved to daily changes in petrol and diesel in line with international oil movements.
    On the fuel price hike fueling inflation, he said the rate of inflation was 10-11 per cent during the government of those people who on Wednesday are making noise on inflation.
    "Today at 3.36 per cent they are making noise," he said, adding that the statutorily fixed monetary policy target for inflation is 4 per cent and the current rate was less than that.
    Jaitley said that during the monsoon period, vegetable prices generally go up. "This is spike period. When it is 3.26 per cent in the spike period, it is under control as per the traditional Indian standard."
    The government is working on additional measures to bolster economy, Finance Minister said.

E-tailers expected to touch GMV of Rs 10,000 crore in the 2017 festive season
  • The festive season of 2016 was a success for the e-tailing industry -- after a series of setbacks in the year -- and it set the tone for its steady growth over the next few quarters. Red Seer Consulting, a research and advisory firm, expects the industry's Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) to touch Rs 10,000 crore ($ 1.7 billion) in the 2017 festive season, around 60 per cent more than last year.
    The GMV for the festival season in October 2015 stood at $720 million and rose to $1,050 million in the same period in 2016.
    The report says that gross units sold in the October 2015 festival period were 19 million, which rose by 42 per cent in the same month in 2016 to 27 million units. It expects 38 to 43 per cent boost in gross units sold during the festive period in September 2017. "In 2017, the lead up to the sales has been much more positive and we expect this year to be significantly bigger than the last" says the report.
    As usual the expectations from the festive season are quite high but people still hold the 'let GST puzzle settle' sentiment and they might want to delay their purchases. However, experts believe that organised players will have a good festive season as their GST activities are well in place unlike the unorganised sector, which is still struggling to come to terms with the new taxation system.

    Private equity deals recorded a 75 per cent increase year-to-date: Grant Thornton
    • Private equity (PE) deals recorded a significant 75 per cent increase year-on-year in investment values in year-to-date (YTD) compared to the corresponding period in 2016 while volumes declined by 23 per cent. According to a Grant Thornton report, "Occurrence of some high value PE transactions combined with decline in deal volumes increased the average investment size."
      Overall deal activity (M&A and PE) in YTD 17 demonstrated a robust 56 per cent increase in values, while volumes declined by 22 per cent. A significant increase in high-value transactions - which includes deals estimated at $ 100 million and above - with 55 such deals in M&A and PE, together contributed to around 85 per cent of total deal values in YTD 2017, adds the report.
      E-commerce, real estate, banking and telecom sectors brought in large PE investments in 2017 contributing over 65 per cent of total values, while volumes continued to be dominated by the start-up sector contributing 60 per cent of volumes. In the month of August, PE investment values witnessed a robust 356 per cent increase -- two billion-dollar investments contributed almost 78 per cent of the total PE investment values, while volumes declined by 46 per cent compared to August 2016. As compared to July 2017, the PE deal activity in August 2017 demonstrated revived deal growth with 4.1 fold increase in the deal values driven by big ticket PE investments, while volumes declined by 20 per cent, highlighted the report.
      The overall deal activity (M&A and PE) in August 2017 witnessed a strong two-fold increase in values primarily driven by big ticket transactions which drove average deal size to 62 million from 21 million in August 2016. While PE investment values drove growth in values, low PE volumes resulted in 29 per cent y-o-y decline in overall deal volumes.
      According to Prashant Mehra, Partner at Grant Thornton India LLP, "$ 6 billion worth of deals (M&A and PE) were transacted across nearly 100 transactions in August. However, a couple of PE transactions alone accounted for around $ 4 billion, driving 66 per cent of the overall deal values. With the exception of the above, deal value and volumes witnessed a decline of around 30 per cent as compared to the activity in Aug'16."
      The month was dominated by investments in start-ups which contributed to 66 per cent of total investment volumes followed by real estate (7%) and banking (6%). On the other hand, e-commerce sector dominated the PE investment values contributing to 51 per cent of investment values.
      "Increasing application of Insolvency and Bankruptcy code will bring more companies on the transaction tables to reduce the debt burden and also to get a share of good assets at a reasonable price. Similarly, nearing fund closure timelines and need for additional funding will encourage consolidations and secondary investments where PE will be looked at as a strong means of alternate financing," added Mehra.

    General Awareness

    UNESCO World Heritage Sites In India

    • There are 32 World Heritage Sites in India as recognised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention 1972. Indias first two sites inscribed on the list during 7th Session of World Heritage 1983 were Agra Fort and Ajanta Caves. Over the years, 30 more sites have been inscribed.
      Latest entries are Rani ki vav in Gujarat and Great Himalayan National Park from Himachal Pradesh in 2014. Of these 32 sites, 25 are cultural and others are natural sites. A tentative list of further sites/properties submitted by India for recognition includes 51 sites.
      Maharashtra is the state with Most number of UNESCO world heritage sites - 4.

      Site NameState / Union TerritoryRemarks
      Kaziranga Wildlife SanctuaryAssamKaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary (Assam) is in flood plains of the Brahmaputra Rivers south bank, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 for its unique natural environment. It was established as a reserved forest in 1908 to protect species of rhinoceros. It was named as Kaziranga Game Sanctuary in 1916, Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary in 1950, and declared a national park in 1974.
      Manas Wildlife SanctuaryAssamManas Wildlife Sanctuary is in Assam and covers area of 50,000 hectares. It is on Border with Bhutan and is contiguous with Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan. It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 for its unique natural environment.
      Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh GayaBiharAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2002
      Humayuns TombDelhiBuilt in 1570 and was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument in 1993 for its cultural importance.
      Qutb Minar and its MonumentsDelhiAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1993
      Red Fort ComplexDelhiAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2007
      Churches and Convents of GoaGoaAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1986
      Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological ParkGujaratAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2004
      Group of Monuments at HampiKarnatakaAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1986
      Group of Monuments at PattadakalKarnatakaAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1987
      Buddhist Monuments at SanchiMadhya PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1989
      Rock Shelters of BhimbetkaMadhya PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2003
      Khajuraho Group of MonumentsMadhya PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1986
      Ajanta CavesMaharashtraAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1983
      Ellora CavesMaharashtraAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1983
      Elephanta CavesMaharashtraAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1987
      Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)MaharashtraAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2004
      Sun Temple, KonarakOdishaAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1984
      Keoladeo National ParkRajasthanAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1985
      Jantar Mantar, JaipurRajasthanAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2010
      Great Living Chola TemplesTamilnaduAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1987
      Group of Monuments at MahabalipuramTamilnaduAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1984
      Agra FortUttar PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1983
      Fatehpur SikriUttar PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1986
      Taj MahalUttar PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1983
      Mountain Railways of IndiaDarjeeling Himalayan Railway (West Bengal)Added in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1999
      Nilgiri Mountain Railway (Ooty, Tamil Nadu)Added in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2005
      Kalka-Shimla Railway (Himachal Pradesh)Added in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2008
      Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National ParksUttarakhandAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1988 and Extension in 2005
      Sundarbans National ParkWest BengalAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1987
      Western GhatsAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2012. Western Ghats (Sahyadri Mountains) are a mountain range along western side of India and one of the worlds ten "Hottest biodiversity hotspots". Total 29 properties (national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests) were designated as world heritage sites - 20 in Kerala, 10 in Karnataka, 5 in Tamil Nadu and 4 in Maharashtra.
      Hill Forts of Rajasthan (Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Ranthambhore, Amber Sub-Cluster, Jaisalmer, Gagron)RajasthanAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2013
      Rani ki vav (The Queen's Stepwell)GujaratAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2014
      Great Himalayan National ParkHimachal PradeshAdded in UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2014

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