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Current Affairs - 11 October 2017

General Affairs 

Defence Minister Calls Visits To Border Areas 'Eye-Opening' Experience
  • Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who undertook a whirlwind tour of defence bases across the country, today called her visits an "eye-opening experience" and stressed on the integration of the three armed forces. In her 30-minute address at the Army Commanders' Conference, she said the integration was essential, particularly in the domain of training, communication, logistics and cyber sphere to prepare for any conflict. She also asked the Indian Army to continue "leveraging its strength in diplomatic defence cooperation with neighbourhood and in the region".
    The Defence Minister said keeping the morale of the forces high at all times was a top priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

    Army chief General Bipin Rawat, while welcoming the minister, talked about her extensive travel to forward posts, including Siachen and the north-east after taking charge of the Defence Ministry.

    General Rawat expressed pleasure over the fact that Ms Sitharaman had already travelled extensively in border areas. Ms Sitharaman referred to her visits to forward areas and meeting with troops as "eye-opening", an official statement said.

    The Defence Minister has been visiting forward areas and different bases of the three forces since she took over as the Defence Minister, and was also seen interacting with Chinese soldiers on her visit to Nathu La Pass.

    She conveyed the admiration of the nation for the professionalism of the Indian Army during incidents like the Doklam standoff, response to natural disasters and fighting insurgency in the north-east.

    Assuring of a focus on capacity and capability development, Ms Sitharaman also promised close monitoring of improvement in strategic infrastructure, long-pending force modification requests, and welfare of serving and retired personnel and their families.

    She told the Army commanders of her request to Home Minister Rajnath Singh for provisioning of HADR or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief equipment to allow the Indian Army to use it during natural disasters.

    The week-long Army Commanders' Conference started on Monday, and will end on October 15.

Fake Currency Notes Act As Oxygen For Terrorism: Union Minister Rajnath Singh
  • High quality fake currency notes act as "oxygen for terrorism" which is a curse to the society, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said today.

    Inaugurating the new headquarters of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) here, he said no civilised country can accept the rise of terrorism on its soil.

    He also termed terrorism as a "curse" that no civilised country can accept.

    "Fake currency contributes to the rise of terrorism and high quality fake currency notes act as oxygen for terrorism," he said.

    Mr Singh said terrorism was a hurdle to development and the NDA government has been taking strong action against the menace.

    The Home Minister said India has taken remarkable steps to highlight the menace of terrorism in the international forums and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has succeeded in bringing international community on board on the issue.

    Referring to the ongoing probe by the NIA on funding to terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Singh said the action has put hurdle in the flow of funds to the militants and their morale was hit badly.

    Complementing the NIA's role in curbing terror acts in the country, the Home Minister said gathering evidence in terror cases was a challenging job and that in 95 per cent of such cases, the accused get convicted.

    He said the NIA has been getting full cooperation from central and state agencies in its task.

    "The NIA has established its credibility and impartiality in last eight years through professional and scientific investigation," he said.

    Mr Singh said the Home Ministry has allowed the NIA to take decisions in administrative matter on its own as it is an autonomous body.

Army Operating Base Attacked By NSCN Terrorists In Arunachal, No Casualties
  • Terrorists attacked a company operating base of the Army at Niausa in Arunachal Pradesh early today, an Army official said. No casualty or damage to property was reported in the attack, which police sources said was likely to have been carried out by the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) or NSCN(K).

    A group of men fired 5-10 rounds from "ineffective" small firearms and lobbed a crude grenade at the base at Niausa in Longding district at 1:15 am, Kohima-based defence spokesman Col. Chiranjeet Konwer said. The sentries retaliated and the attackers fled, he said.

    "There was no casualty or damage to properties of the COB. The retaliatory fire had to be controlled keeping in mind the safety of the villagers in the vicinity," the spokesman said. Operations are being launched against the attackers, he said.

    Police sources from Longding said the NSCN(K), which is active in the district, was behind the attack.

Parliamentary Panel To Look Into Doklam, Rohingya Issues
  • The over two-month-long Doklam standoff and the Rohingya refugees issue will be examined by a parliamentary panel on external affairs headed by Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor. The panel, which also includes Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, will deliberate on a number of key foreign policy issues at its next meeting which is likely to be held next month, one of its members said.

    The border situation and the Doklam standoff, relations with Myanmar and the Rohingya issue are among subjects selected by the panel for deliberations, according to the Lok Sabha bulletin.

    Voting rights to non-resident Indians or NRIs, the crisis in the European Union after Brexit and implications for India and performance of passport issuance system including issuance of e-passport are topics for discussions shortlisted by the panel for its year-long agenda.

    Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had in July briefed the panel on the Doklam standoff.

90 Per Cent Of Rural Houses To Get Piped Water By 2022: President Ram Nath Kovind
  • President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday said the government has made a "sacred commitment" of covering 90 per cent of Indian rural households with piped water supply by 2022, when the country completes 75 years of Independence.

    Inaugurating India Water Week-2017, the President said access to water was a byword for human dignity and that providing safe drinking water to people living in 600,000 villages and urban areas was not just a project proposal for the government.

    "It is a sacred commitment. The government has prepared a strategic plan for ensuring drinking water supply in all rural areas by 2022. By that year, the goal is to cover 90 per cent of rural households with piped water supply. We cannot fail," he said.

    He said while water was fundamental to the economy and to ecology -- and to human equity, the issue of scarcity of water was becoming still more critical in view of climate change and related environmental concerns.

    "Better and more efficient use of water is a challenge for Indian agriculture and industry alike. It requires us to set new benchmarks in both our villages and in the cities we build."

    He said currently, 80 per cent of water in India was used by agriculture and only 15 per cent by industry.

    But the ratio, he asserted, is expected to change in the coming years as the demand for water would also rise.

    "Efficiency of water use and reuse, therefore, has to be built into the blueprint of industrial projects. Business and industry need to be a part of the solution."

    He observed that 40 billion litres of waste water was produced every day in urban India which made it vital to adopt a technology to reduce the toxic content of the waste water and to deploy it for irrigation purposes.

    He called for water management approach to be localised so that it empowered villages and neighbourhood communities and built their capacity to manage, allocate and value their water resources.

    "Any 21st century water policy must factor in the concept of the value of water. It must encourage all stakeholders, including communities, to expand their minds -- and to graduate from allocating a quantum of water to allocating a quantum of benefits."

Business Affairs

No respite for Indian banks as bad loans hit record $146 billion
  • Indian banks' sour loans hit a record 9.5 trillion rupees ($145.56 billion) at the end of June, unpublished data shows, suggesting Asia's third-largest economy is no nearer to bringing its bad debt problems under control.
    A review of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data obtained through right-to-information requests shows banks' total stressed loans - including non-performing and restructured or rolled over loans - rose 4.5 percent in the six months to end-June. In the previous six months they had risen 5.8 percent.
    While banks remain the main source of funding for India's companies, the stubborn bad debt problem has eaten into bank profits and choked off new lending, especially to smaller firms, at a time when an economy that depends on them is stalling.
    India grew at its slowest pace in three years in April-June - a concern for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces elections in 2019 and has pledged to create millions of new jobs before then.
    Banks are having to take higher provisions to account for more defaulters being pushed into bankruptcy. And margins are likely to be squeezed further by proposed new rules to encourage commercial banks to pass on central bank interest rate cuts.
    To be sure, the bulk of India's sour loans are in the state banks and stem from lending to large conglomerates, especially in steel and infrastructure. But analysts say the rise in bad loans among small firms, and even retail borrowing, is worrying and will do little to encourage new loans to help fuel growth.
    "On the corporate side, we think it's a recognition cycle which is nearing an end," said Alka Anbarasu, senior analyst at Moody's Investor Service, referring to more bad loans being recognized as such, as banks come under pressure from the RBI and other regulators. "But it's really those data points beyond corporate that are causing some worry."
    Anbarasu forecast weak quarters ahead for banks before profitability picks up, and several senior bankers from public sector lenders - which account for more than two-thirds of Indian banking assets - agreed the months ahead would be strained.
    Stressed loans as a percentage of total loans reached 12.6 percent at end-June, according to the RBI data, the highest level in at least 15 years.
    Higher Provisions, Weaker Loans
    Part of the issue for banks and the government is a strict provisioning regime: the RBI wants banks to provide for at least 50 percent of the secured loans to companies taken to bankruptcy proceedings, and 100 percent for the unsecured part.
    A dozen of the biggest such cases account for nearly 1.78 trillion rupees, or a quarter of total non-performing assets.
    For those companies, banks will need to provide 180 billion rupees on top of existing provisions, according to July estimates from India Ratings and Research, the local affiliate of Fitch Ratings.
    More than 20 other sizeable companies are at risk of being taken to bankruptcy court.
    Bankers say these and other pressures - including rising government bond yields that forced banks to post mark-to-market losses - have added to the squeeze, and hit new loans.
    According to RBI data, new loans grew at just about 5 percent in the year to March, the lowest growth rate in more than six decades. Several banks have already cut back their loan books to conserve capital.
    "What are they (RBI) thinking while they're taking these steps all at the same time?" said a treasurer at a state-run bank, who didn't want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. "Do they want banks to wind up their businesses, or do they want to save the banks?"
    Treasury income accounted for 22.7 percent of banks' operating profits in the last financial year, doubling its share from a year earlier, India Ratings estimates.
    "The almost zero treasury income will hit provisioning ability and, in turn, make it more difficult for weaker banks to give loans as capital becomes more scarce," said Soumyajit Niyogi, an associate director at the rating agency.
    A senior policymaker, who requested anonymity as the discussions are not public, said the government would have to help to sufficiently capitalize the banks.
    Fitch Ratings estimates Indian banks will need $65 billion of additional capital by March 2019 to meet Basel III global banking rules. Moody's expects the top 11 state lenders alone will need nearly $15 billion. The government has just $3 billion left in its budget for bank recapitalization.
    "We think capitalization is the biggest challenge for the banks at the moment, given that earnings will remain subdued and will not support any capital generation," said Moody's Anbarasu.

Job cuts to hound Indian IT sector for next two quarters; companies mull layoffs: Survey
  • With Indian IT sector experiencing disruption in traditional roles rising every day on account of automation and digitisation, IT professionals in the country might to see a decline in job opportunities during the coming six months, a survey found out.
    Hiring intentions across the IT sector in India will further weaken between October 2017 and March 2018, stated the Experis IT Employment Outlook Survey, released today by Experis IT ManpowerGroup India.
    With rampant changes in the technology scenario, the Indian IT industry is planning to adjust the talent pool at its disposal accordingly. The survey of 500 Indian IT employers across India found out that  IT comapnies in the country are looking at extensive hiring in junior- and mid- levels, while contemplating layoffs in the senior slab.
    "The collective number of layoffs that the IT giants are contemplating is way higher than what the Indian IT industry has ever witnessed and this trend is likely to continue for the next 6-12 months," the survey stated.
    In light of these predictions, IT professionals should utilise the next 6-12 months to upgrade their skill sets to get into cutting-edge technologies where demand for talent is expected to be huge, the survey advised.
    "A rise in new enabling technologies such as software as a service (SaaS) offerings, cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, Artificial Intelligence's (AI) unprecedented speed, accuracy and cost efficiency is significant to maintain the competitive edge which are driving the businesses now," said Manmeet Singh, President at Experis, ManpowerGroup India.
    Singh further said, "With this ongoing transformation, these technologies bring underlying technical complexity, which spurs the demand for young professionals resulting in Talent Refresh cycle in the Indian IT industry that would continue for the next 2 years."
    Though the overall Indian IT employment outlook is fairly positive, the focus is shifting from scale to skill and upskilling employees is the new plan of action for employers.
    A majority of employers said they want trained freshers in the system. Companies are now looking for fresh talent in the market that is upskilled already with the latest technologies and is ready to hit the ground.
    "Preponing of probation is going to be the new normal of the industry so as to reduce the learning curve," the report said.
    "In an era of external uncertainty, what is more important is that companies should continue on the path of transforming their organisation's engagement models, delivery capabilities and go-to market approach to suit the fast-changing needs of digital transformation," Singh said.

PM Narendra Modi's Economic Advisory Council to meet for first time tomorrow
  • The first meeting of the newly constituted Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) will take place on Wednesday at NITI Aayog. The Council was set up with the approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 26th September 2017 to halt the downhill movement of the Indian economy.
    The Council is made of reputed economists and experts under the chairmanship of NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Bibek Debroy. Other members include Finance Secretary Ratan P Watal as Member Secretary, along with Surjit Bhalla, Rathin Roy and Ashima Goyal as part time members.
    The Council is mandated to analyze all critical issues, economic or otherwise referred to it by the Prime Minister, and advising him thereon. It is also required to address issues of macro-economic importance and presenting views thereon.
    In line with its stipulated duties, the EAC has held a brainstorming session with stakeholders on October 9 in the run up to the first meeting of the Council. The Council address all issues of emergent importance, engage with a broad spectrum of stakeholders and formulate advice accordingly, said a government statement.

Gujarat, Maharashtra cut VAT on petrol, diesel: Here's how much you will pay for fuel in two BJP-ruled states
  • Days after Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan urged the state governments to cut the value added tax or VAT on petrol  and diesel, two BJP-ruled states Gujarat and Maharashtra have today slashed the VAT on fuel. While the Gujarat government cut the fuel prices by 4 per cent, the Maharashtra government reduced petrol and diesel prices by Rs 2 and Rs 1 respectively. In both the states, new rates will be effective from midnight. The Central government had earlier instructed the state governments to bring down the taxes to help the consumers.
    Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani today at a press meet said: "After the central governments instructions, Gujarat has decided to reduce VAT on petrol and diesel by 4 per cent from today mid-night."  With this rate cut, the price of petrol will come down by Rs 2.93 and that of diesel by Rs 2.72 in the state. The effective price of petrol in Gujarat from midnight will be Rs 66.53 per litre and that of diesel Rs 60.77 per litre. However, after this move, the state government will suffer a loss of Rs 2,316 crore per yeary. "But we have taken this decision in the interest of people," Rupani said.
    Hours after the Gujarat government announced the tax cut, Devendra Fadnavis government also came out with tax reduction on fuel. The Maharashtra government currently levies 26 percent VAT on petrol and 24 percent on diesel in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai. However, the taxes on fuel will now come down by Rs 2. After the new rates come into force, petrol will cost Rs 75.58 per litre and diesel will cost Rs 59.55 in the state. The reports also suggest that the current rate cut will cost the state exchequer nearly Rs 2,600 crore.
    These decisions have come days after Dharmendra Pradhan requested the state governments to reduce VAT on fuels. "It is the responsibility of states to reduce VAT. Every state has different VAT rates on fuel and if each of them reduce by 5 per cent, consumers will benefit," Pradhan said adding many states levy VAT on auto fuel at 24-26 per cent. Pradhan had also said that Finance minister would write to the Chief Ministers of all states urging them to reduce VAT on petrol and diesel.
    Earlier this month, the central government had reduced excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 2 a litre. The government was under pressure from people and as well as the opposition parties for keeping fuel prices high -due to excise duty- while global prices remained low. Recently, the petrol price in the national capital touched Rs70.83 per litre, highest since 16 January. The government had in November 2015 and January 2016 raised excise duty on petrol and diesel five times to take away gains arising from plummeting international oil prices.
    On October 4, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had nudged the states governments to cut VAT on petrol and diesel to provide relief to consumers from high fuel prices. The Finance Minister said the Rs 2 per litre cut in excise duty on fuel was done to give relief to consumers. "Now it is up to state governments if they are concerned with the issue (to cut sales tax or VAT)," Jaitley said. He further said that states governments such as Kerala and Delhi were at the forefront of demanding a cut in duties. "And therefore state governments must really look at their own VAT collections," the Finance Minister had said.  

    Sensex rises for 3rd day; Nifty above 10,000
    • The benchmark BSE Sensex rose by 78 points to end at over two-week high of 31,924.41, marking its third straight day of gains as pharma, oil and gas and banking stocks advanced.
      The broader NSE Nifty closed above the 10,000-mark for the first time since September 21, gaining 28.20 points, or 0.28 per cent to 10,016.95 after shuttling between 10,034 and 10,002.30.
      Sustained buying by domestic financial institutions and widening of exposure by retail investors ahead of the second quarter earnings season amid a firming trend in the Asian region helped markets extend gains for a third day, brokers said.
      Stocks of IT, power, healthcare, capital goods, oil & gas, banking and auto were the major drivers.
      The Sensex resumed higher at 31,910.82 and hovered in a range of 31,994.77 and 31,896.90 before ending at 31,924.41, showing a gain of 77.52 points or 0.24 per cent. This is its highest closing since September 21, when it had closed at 32,370.04.
      The gauge had gained 254.86 points in the previous two days.

    General Awareness

    VAJRA faculty scheme – 260 applicants for government’s visiting researcher programme

    • Central Government has received 260 applications from foreign scientists for Visiting Advanced Joint Research (VAJRA) Faculty scheme. Out of these 260 applications, 70 will be shortlisted for this year.
      About Visiting Advanced Joint Research (VAJRA) Faculty scheme:
      VAJRA Faculty scheme is a pilot project by the Department of Science and Technology (Under Union Ministry of Science and Technology) which was launched in May 2017.
      • The department intends to select 1,000 scientists every year under this scheme.
      • Public funded academic institutions and national laboratories in India are eligible to host VAJRA faculties and can appoint them as visiting faculty. At these institutions/laboratories, the selected scientists will be involved in co-guiding and mentoring students as well as in developing collaborative programmes.
      • Interacting with these scientists will help Indian doctorate students to collaborate with best scientific minds and gain international exposure in their area of research.
      • Scientists selected under this scheme will be paid US $15,000 in the first month of residency and US $10,000 per month from the next month.
      • They will work in India for a minimum of a month and a maximum of three months.
      Shortlisting the names for this year’s VAJRA Faculty Scheme:
      Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary of Department of Science and Technology, has stated that screening of 260 applicants will start in October 2017 and the shortlisted scientists will begin work by December 2017.
      • Before shortlisting, Department of Science and Technology will ascertain whether the experience of scientists who have applied, matches with the focus areas in which the department wants them to work.
      • This year, department will look for scientists who have experience in the fields of renewable energy, water and other technology. These are the areas in which Indian does not have expert-level talent pool.

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