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Current Affairs - 23 September 2017

General Affairs 

Sushma Swaraj Raises Issue Of Terrorism, H-1B With US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today raised the issue of terrorism and H-1B with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as the two leaders met for the first time in a bilateral setting.

    Ms Swaraj and Mr Tillerson, who met in New York on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session, also discussed strengthening of the US-India political and economic partnership, officials said.

    "The Secretary thanked the Minister for India's contributions to stability and development in Afghanistan and the region," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said after the meeting.

    "They discussed further strengthening the US-India political and economic partnership," she said.

    Ms Swaraj also strongly raised with Mr Tillerson the issue of H1-B visa, the most sought after by Indian IT professionals.

    The Trump administration is currently reviewing the H-1B visa policy as it thinks that the visa is being misused by companies to replace American workers.

    "The two ministers discussed regional issues, with a focus of Pakistan, Afghanistan and terrorism," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

    The two sides reviewed all aspects of bilateral relationship, including expanding trade and investment relations, he added.

    They also discussed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

    US President Donald Trump this month scrapped an amnesty programme that granted work permits to immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children. The move can impact 800,000 undocumented workers including thousands of Indian- Americans.

    According to Mr Nauert, Ms Swaraj and Mr Tillerson also discussed the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which the US and India will co-host in Hyderabad from November 28 to 30.

    The American delegation would be led by Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the US President Trump.

    During the meeting, the two leaders also discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, including the situation in the neighbourhood and the Indo-Asia Pacific region, officials said.

    This was the first highest-level meeting between the leaders of the two countries since June when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with President Trump.

    The meeting also comes ahead of the visit of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to India next week.

    This was the first stand-alone meeting between Ms Swaraj and Mr Tillerson.

    "Secretary Tillerson and Minister Swaraj also looked forward to convening a 2+2 dialogue alongside Minister of Defence (Nirmala) Sitharaman and Secretary of Defense (Jim) Mattis in the near future," Mr Nauert said.

    Ms Swaraj is scheduled to deliver her address to the UN General Assembly tomorrow.

Mamata Banerjee Has New Plan After Court Voids Durga Idol Immersion Ban On Muharram
  • The day after the high court cancelled unusual restrictions imposed in West Bengal on Puja processions, the Mamata Banerjee government on Friday decided that people will need to have police permission for immersion of Durga idols on Muharram, the Muslim day of mourning.

    "Depending on circumstances and situation, wherever found fit permission will be granted and wherever there are problems permission will not be granted," the state's Home Secretary Atri Bhattacharya announced after a high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

    Chief Minister Banerjee had earlier controversially banned puja processions for immersion of Durga idols on October 1, reportedly on advice of the police. Under this order, immersions wouldn't be allowed on 30 September after 10 pm and 1t October. The Chief Minister did not want any situation to arise that leads to a communal clash, angering many Hindu groups.

    This diktat was, however, was voided by the Calcutta High Court yesterday that appeared to reprimand the government for what the court called "drawing a line between Hindus and Muslims" and "exercising extreme power without any basis".

    A defiant Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had declared soon after that she wouldn't back down, irrespective of the court verdict.

    "Slit my throat but no one tells me what to do," Ms Banerjee retorted, asserting that she would do "what I can to keep the peace".

    Friday's meeting with top bureaucrats came up with the way out.

    Since the high court  had objected to a blanket ban on immersion of Durga idols on Muharram, top bureaucrats told the Chief Minister that the government would be well within the boundaries of law and the court verdict to take a decision on individual requests for the idol immersion.

    Home Secretary Atri Bhattacharya said the court order had clearly provided for the state government to grant permissions for immersion "after the state government assesses the situation".

    Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar said they hadn't received any request for immersion of idols on Ekadashi, 1 October. When someone does, he said, "standard procedures will be followed".

    Three petitions had challenged the restrictions on the immersion of idols at the end of the five-day Durga Puja, which coincides with Muharram this year. During arguments, the court had said a state "cannot hinder a citizen's right to practice religion assuming that there will be law and order problems".

    "I think every resident of West Bengal should cooperate in such a manner that both the communities may celebrate their festivals in their own way peacefully in a cooperative spirit. There is no question of any tension and conflict between the two communities," Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi later told reporters.

ISRO Gearing Up For Next PSLV Launch In November-December
  • Nearly a month after its unsuccessful attempt at placing a navigation satellite into space, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is gearing up for its next PSLV mission in November-December.

    "We are planning the next PSLV launch in November-December," ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar told reporters on the sidelines of the 68th National Conference of Aeronautical Society of India here today.

    On the failed PSLV-C39 mission in August, he said a committee was looking into it and "it is in the final stages of their findings".

    "It will also stipulate the exact problem. We are waiting for it," the ISRO chief said.

    Mr Kumar asserted there was no problem with the launch vehicle. "Only that particular separation of the heat shield was the problem," he said.

    The ISRO chairman also maintained that there would not be any change in the control system of the launch vehicle.

    The launch of ISRO's navigation satellite onboard its polar rocket had failed on August 31 following a technical glitch, just prior to its scheduled orbiting in space.

    Earlier, at the conference titled 'Emerging Trends in Aerospace Technology', Mr Kumar focused on the need to develop indigenous cost-effective aircraft as "major development is expected in regional transport aircraft sector".

    Stating that the technology required for the same already exists, the ISRO chariman said the question was whether the country could built aircraft here itself and make them operational at an affordable cost.

    "Though the nation has made great strides in aerospace, launch vehicle and missile technologies, it has mot made much progress in passenger aircraft sector," he pointed out. Reasons could be manifold and it is a complex issue, he said.

    Obtaining certification of the system for usage is also a problem, Kumar said, adding "we need to take up this issue and resolve it."

    President of Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI) and member of NITI Aayog, VK Saraswat, in his address said, "Growth in aerospace technology in the country has been rapid, but the same was changing at a fast pace".

    However, he said the weaknesses lay in system design and wanted the scientists to harness the design capability.

    The two-day ASET 2017 focuses on a broad spectrum of knowledge areas, including future of Indian planetary exploration, Indian space transportation systems, space applications, advances in materials and manufacturing, manned missions and aerospace medicines, future of combat air vehicles, advanced weapons, small satellite launch vehicles, energy systems, space law, maritime safety and project management.

Nepal To Check Mount Everest Height Last Measured By India In 1954
  • Nepal will measure Mount Everest afresh to settle a controversy over height of the world's tallest peak, especially after some estimates suggested it became a little shorter in the wake of an earthquake two years ago, officials said on Friday.
    Nepal, home to Mount Everest and half of the world's 14 highest mountains, has never measured the peak on its own and uses its snow height of 8,848 metres (29,028 feet) that was measured by the Survey of India in 1954.

    Many Western climbers use the height of 8,850 metres (29,035 feet) determined in 1999 by the National Geographic Society and Boston's Museum of Science, in a survey that used satellite-based technology to measure the peak.

    Everest straddles the border between Nepal and China, and in 2005 Chinese mountaineers and researchers put its height at 8,844.43 metres (29,017 feet).

    Ganesh Prasad Bhatta, director general of the Nepal government's Survey Department said an expedition would be made next year to settle the debate.

    "We are now developing a methodology for the measurement which will be discussed with international experts, and their advice will be incorporated to make sure that our work meets global standards and is internationally accepted," Bhatta told Reuters.

    He said Nepal lacked scientific tools like Global Positioning System and leveling equipment as well as gravimeters, but would hire what was needed from experts and agencies like the International Association of Geodesy.

    "If the weather conditions on the mountain are good, we will start the work in the summer climbing season next year or in the Autumn of 2018," Anil Marasini, another official with the Survey Department, said.

    Officials said they would seek to establish whether a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015 had altered the mountain's height.

    The earthquake occurred during the peak climbing season, and massive avalanches killed 18 people at the base camp.

    During the summer mountaineering season this year, some climbers said the Hillary Step - a near vertical rock formation below the summit - had collapsed, though the Nepal government has rebutted those claims.

Protests Outside UN Over Pakistan Army's Atrocities In Balochistan, Sindh
  • Members of the Baloch and Sindhi community today held a joint protest outside the UN headquarters against atrocities and human rights violations by Pakistani security forces in Balochistan and Sindh.

    Organised by the Baloch National Movement (BNM) and Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) protesters raised their voice against the brutal Pakistani military operations, enforced disappearances, torture and killings of civilians.

    Nabi Bakhsh Baloch, secretary general, BNM-North America stated that the ongoing Pakistani military operation in the Kolwah area of Balochistan has resulted in fatalities while a large number of residents were taken away by soldiers who also set fire to their homes and properties.

    "For the record, this scenario is not about Myanmar or Rohingya Muslims but Balochistan where Pakistan's army is committing genocide (against people in Balochistan and Sindh)" he said.

    In a statement, Sarang Ansari, JSQM - North America strongly condemned the "Pakistani state policy" of repressing the voice of political dissent in Sindh resulting in mass enforced disappearances, targeted killings, forced conversion of girls to Islam and brutal sectarian violence deliberately targeting Sufi shrines and places of worship of religious minorities.

    Mr Ansari demanded "immediate action by the UN to stop Pakistan from using terrorist jihadist outfits in Sindh and Balochistan against secular nationalist organisations".

    In a joint memorandum submitted to the UN Secretary General, BNM and JSQM urged the world body to urgently take action against Pakistan army's "war crimes" committed against innocent civilian populations and the political dissent in Balochistan and Sindh.

    "People of Sindh and Balochistan demand for an urgent UN intervention to stop the Pakistani state atrocities, gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed against civilian populations," the memorandum said.

    "Suffering families ask for the return of thousands of Baloch and Sindhi missing persons illegally taken away by the Pakistan army in the last several years. UN should send a peace and human rights mission to Islamabad to find ways to end all military operations in Sindh and Balochistan," the joint memorandum said.

Business Affairs

Air India dininvestment: Govt seeks asset valuer for Air India stake sale
  • As the government prepares to peg a price tag to Air India for its stake sale, it has invited applications for an asset valuer for the national carrier as well as its subsidiaries and overseas offices.
    The Union Cabinet has given its in-principal approval for disinvestment of the debt-laden Air India and has constituted a group of ministers to chart out the future course of action.
    According to the tender document floated by civil aviation ministry, the asset valuer will have to carry out the valuation of land, buildings, aircraft, engines, stock inventory of spares, maintenance facilities, furniture, office appliances and computer systems, among others.
    This exercise will have to be conducted for the airline, its subsidiaries, joint ventures as well as its offices across the world.
    The applicant will have to be a valuer registered with the either of the following institutions -- Income Tax Department, Reserve Bank of India, Central Public Works Department, Public Sector Banks or Institution of Valuers.
    However, bids by a consortium or a group of bidders will not be allowed.
    Proposals have to be submitted by October 16.
    "The bidder is required to complete the aforesaid services/ work including submission of final valuation report within a period of 120 days from the date of issue of letter of award," the tender document states.
    The government had earlier called for applications for a legal advisor and up to two transactional advisors.
    Air India has five subsidiaries --Air India Express Limited (AIEL), Air India Air Transport Service Limited (AIATSL), Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL), Airline Allied Service Ltd (AASL) and Hotel Corporation of India (HCI).
    It also has a joint-venture with Singapore Air Transport Services (SATS) called AISATS.
    AI group serves 42 international destinations and over 70 domestic stations. It has an operating fleet of 142 aircraft comprising 65 A320 aircraft, 15 B777 aircraft, 24 B787 aircraft, 23 B737-800, 4 B747 aircraft and 11 ATRs.
    Air India has a debt burden of more than Rs 50,000 crore and has is also planning to take short term loans worth up to Rs 3,250 crore to meet working capital requirements.

Transition input credit unlikely to impact July GST collection
  • The government today rejected the claim that the  Rs 65,000 crore claimed as transition credit under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July would hit the income of the government during the month.
    It clarified that the amount claimed as transition input tax credit for the month of July is just a balance of credit and it does not necessarily means all of this would have been used for payment of tax liability in July.
    The government has collected Rs 95,000 crore as GST in July, but due to input tax claims of Rs 65,000, there are speculation that the tax collection would be much lower than expected raising concern that the government may not be able to achieve the targeted revenue collection in the current financial year.
    It further says that Rs 95,000 crore is the amount actually paid in cash other than availing credit.  
    The government also clarified that Rs 65,000 crore transition credit claimed is not incredibly high since Rs.1.27 lakh crore of credit of Central Excise and Service Tax was lying as closing balance as on 30 June, 2017.
    "Of course, some of these credits may not be admissible under GST regime, for example the credits, which are blocked under Section 17 (5) of CGST Act or which are not covered under the definition of GST.  Also, some of the credits, which are claimed in TRANS 1 form may be under litigation and, therefore, it may not be available to the assesse to carry forward or utilisation.  It is from this angle that CBEC is examining the transition credits, which are claimed by the assessees in TRANS 1 form in certain cases," says a finance ministry release.
    TRANS 1 is the form to be submitted by registered persons under GST, registered/ unregistered under old regime to claim input credit on tax paid on stocks leftover on 1 July 2017.

Retail inflation for agricultural labourers and rural labourers rises in August 2017
  • Retail inflation for agricultural labourers, measured by CPI-AL, rose to 2.1 per cent in August 2017 compared to 0.8 per cent in July 2017. The rise in index varied from state to state. In case of agricultural labourers, it recorded an increase between 2 to 19 points in all 20 states. Karnataka with 1,063 points topped the index table whereas Bihar with 731 points stood at the bottom.  On a cumulative basis, CPI-AL increased 1.6 per cent during April-August 2017 compared to 5.9 per cent in the corresponding period previous year.
    Retail price inflation for rural labourers, measured by CPI-RL, increased to 2.2 per cent from 1.02 per cent in the previous month. In case of rural labourers, it also recorded an increase between 2 to 19 points in all 20 states. Karnataka with 1,051 points topped the index table whereas again Bihar stood at the bottom with 735 points. During April-August 2017, it declined 0.1 per cent. The maximum increase of 19 points in both consumer price indices for agricultural labourers and rural labourers was registered by Maharashtra mainly due to the rise in prices of rice, wheat, jowar, bajra, fish fresh, onion, vegetables and fruits.
    Food inflation in both the groups rose for the first time after a continuous fall in past three months of financial year 2017-18.

Sensex falls 447 points, Nifty closes below 10,000 level over North Korea hydrogen bomb scare
  • The Sensex and Nifty tumbled on Friday following nervousness in global markets as investors turned cautious following new US sanctions targeting North Korea which threatened to test a nuclear weapon in the Pacific.
    North Korea's foreign minister reportedly warned Thursday Pyongyang could test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in response to US President Donald Trump's threats of military action.
    The Sensex closed 447 points or 1.38 percent lower to 31,922  level. The Nifty was down 1.56 percent or 157.50 points at 9964.40 level.
    IPCA Laboratories (8.78 percent), IndiaBulls Real Estate (8.23 percent) and Jindal Steel (8.17 percent) were the top losers on the BSE.
    On the 30-stock Sensex, Tata Steel (4.70 percent), L&T (3.49 percent) and Reliance (2.83 percent) were the top losers.
    Market breadth was negative with 519 stocks closing higher against 519 falling on the BSE.
    Meanwhile, the rupee fell below the 65 mark for the first time in over five-and-a-half months on Friday on concern that fiscal deficit will widen after the government said it was considering measures to boost growth.
    The Indian currency closed 54 paise lower to 64.81 per dollar on Thursday.
    The first-quarter GDP growth slipped to a three-year low of 5.7 per cent this fiscal year. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said the government is considering additional measures to bolster the economy.
    Global markets
    Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.4 percent to 20,273.26 and South Korea's Kospi lost 0.7 percent to 2,389.83. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.8 percent to 27,877.19 and the Shanghai Composite fell 0.5 percent to 3,341.72. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.4 percent to 5,675.70. Taiwan's benchmark fell and Southeast Asian indexes were mostly lower.
    Major US benchmarks ended lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 0.3 percent to 2,500.60. The Dow Jones industrials fell 0.2 percent to 22,359.23. The Nasdaq composite lost 0.5 percent to 6,422.69.

    Good news for homebuyers! Interest subsidy on MIG housing loans extended till March 2019
    • The interest subsidy of up to Rs 2.60 lakh on home loans under the Centre's affordable housing scheme will now be available to middle income group (MIG) beneficiaries for 15 more months till March 2019, a top official said. Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra said the decision will provide more time for MIG beneficiaries to avail interest subsidy under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban), an official release said.
      Mishra was addressing the 'Real Estate and Infrastructure Investors Summit' organized by National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO), the apex industry body of real estate sector, today.
      On December 31 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the credit linked subsidy scheme (CLSS) under PMAY (Urban) will be applicable to MIG till the end of December this year. Now, the subsidy scheme will be available for 15 more months till March 2019.
      Under CLSS, MIG beneficiaries with annual income of above Rs 6 lakh and up to Rs 12 lakh would get an interest subsidy of four per cent on a 20-year loan component of Rs 9 lakh.
      Those with annual income exceeding Rs 12 lakh and up to Rs 18 lakh would get interest subsidy of three per cent.
      Reiterating the government's commitment to meet the 'Housing for All' target in urban areas by 2022, Mishra urged the private sector to invest in affordable housing as it is being promoted by the government in a "big way" with several incentives and concessions, the release said.
      Mishra later had an hour long discussions with a 30- member delegation of NAREDCO and assured them that the government would look into various issues raised by them in all sincerity and possible interventions would be considered, it added.
      The delegation referred to what they called anomalies in GST rates for completed and under construction housing projects, stamp duties being higher and kept outside the purview of GST, scarcity of land, delays in granting construction permits among other issues, the release said.
      The delegation expressed concern over the GST and other taxes accounting for over one third of the cost of residential properties, it added.

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