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Current Affairs - 20 October 2017

General Affairs 

Talks Fail To End Maharashtra Transport Workers' Strike
  • The strike by the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation employees, who are demanding a pay hike, entered the third day today even as talks held among stakeholders failed to break the deadlock. Talks between Transport Minister Diwakar Raote, MSRTC officials and union representatives failed to arrive at a negotiated settlement to end the strike.
    Owing to the strike, which started on October 16 midnight, passengers across the state continued to face hardships in travelling to their hometowns in the festive season.

    Mr Raote, along with officials of the corporation, held several rounds of meetings yesterday with union representatives. However, these meetings failed to break the deadlock.

    "Union representatives put forth the highest-ever proposal to increase the salary. Their (pay hike) demand is so high that it is not possible for the MSRTC to accept it," the minister said.

    The minister once again appealed to the striking staffers to resume duty taking in account the plight of long-distance passengers. Several stranded passengers took trains to reach their destinations. The Central Railway has added a few additional unreserved coaches in Matsyagandha Express, Mangalore Express and Tutari Express.

    A stranded passenger, Nidhi Dwiwedi, took to twitter to appeal to MSRTC staffers to end the strike. "The most awaited Indian festival #Diwali and we sit at ST Bus stand waiting for the bus to arrive. Please resume."

    The workers' union representatives blamed the MSRTC administration for the prevailing logjam and hardship caused to bus commuters. A senior representative of the workers' union said, "As per the rule, we had given a notice for strike 40 days in advance. But the administration remained under the impression that we would accept their terms."

    The corporation has, however, denied the charge. Milind Band, Deputy General Manager (Operations) of MSRTC, said, "After their notice, we held a series of meetings with their representatives and tried to convince them how their demand was not financially feasible. But unfortunately, they went ahead with the strike."

20 Air Force Planes To Land On Agra Expressway Next Week In Special Drill
  • Twenty planes of the Indian Air Force will land on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway next week in an exercise that will help the IAF operate in a wide range of emergency situations, a defence spokesperson said. The aircraft that will practice the difficult landing on October 24 include AN-32 transport plane and Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi 30MKI fighter jets.
    From tomorrow, no vehicles will be allowed to run on the stretch of the expressway which will be used as a landing strip.

    The IAF aircraft will land on the stretch of the expressway near Bangarmau in Unnao district, some 65 kilometres from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, Gargi Malik Sinha, Public Relations Officer of Defence, Central Command told news agency PTI.

    "It is for the first time any transport aircraft will land and then take off (from a road). The AN-32s are meant for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during floods or any other natural calamity," Ms Sinha said. "The aircraft can bring a large amount of relief material. It can also help in evacuating people."

    Several countries allow their air force to practice landing on and take-off from large highways in order to ensure air operations continue even when an airbase has been knocked out by enemy forces or natural disaster. Switzerland has several such highways that can be used as landing strips by its air force.

    In May 2015, a Mirage 2000 fighter jet of the IAF test-landed on the Yamuna Expressway near Delhi as part of a drill for emergency landings on national highways. Another six IAF fighter jets -- Sukhoi 30MKIs and Mirage 2000s -- performed simulated landings in November 2016 when the Agra-Lucknow Expressway was inaugurated.

On Diwali, India Promises Medical Visa In All Deserving Cases
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said today that on the auspicious occasion of Diwali India will grant medical visa in all deserving cases that are pending, as she responded positively to a number of such requests by Pakistani nationals.

    To a request for a visa by a Pakistani woman named Amna Shamin, whose father is already in Delhi for treatment and she wants to visit him, Swaraj said, "Please contact Indian High Commission in Pakistan. We will allow this."  On Wednesday, she had directed the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to issue a visa to a Pakistani child for medical treatment in India.

    The child's father, Kashif, had requested Swaraj on Twitter to grant medical visa for treatment of Abdullah, saying he needed post-liver transplant evaluation in India.

    "The treatment of your child must not suffer for want of medicine. I have asked Indian High Commission to issue medical visa. @ChachaKashif," the minister had tweeted on Wednesday.

    Kashif had said the child's medicines were about to finish and he needed immediate medical consultation in India.

    In another tweet on Wednesday, Ms Swaraj said a medical visa has also been approved for a Pakistani woman, who wants to undergo liver surgery in India.

    The woman's son, Rafique Memon, had requested Swaraj to intervene and grant visa to his mother.

    The foreign minister also responded positively to a request for a visa by Nazir Ahmed, whose eight-year-old child Mohammad Ahmed was awaiting medical visa for a year.

    "We will issue visa to facilitate treatment of your 8- year-old child in India," she said.

    Swaraj has been taking a sympathetic approach in granting medical visas to Pakistani nationals, notwithstanding strain in ties between India and Pakistan over a host of issues, including cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

PM Modi Celebrates Diwali With Soldiers - 'His Family' - In Kashmir
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today spent his fourth Diwali with soldiers - this time at Gurez in Jammu and Kashmir, where troops of the 15 Corps are stationed.  During the two-hour tour in Gurez -- a picturesque valley along the Line of Control in Bandipora district - Prime Minister said like everyone else, he was spending the festival with his "family".

    Exchanging greetings and offering sweets to the soldiers, the Prime Minister said he gets fresh energy when he spends time among the jawans of the Armed Forces. He said he appreciated their penance and sacrifice amid the harsh conditions.

    In the visitors' book at the outpost, he wrote, "Protecting the Motherland, far from your loved ones, displaying the highest traditions of sacrifice, all soldiers at the nation's borders, are symbols of bravery and dedication... The presence of brave soldiers at the border, on this festive occasion, lights the lamp of hope, and generates new energy among crores of Indians." Army chief General Bipin Rawat and other senior officers accompanied him, reported news agency Press Trust of India, quoting an Army official.

    This was his second visit to Kashmir on Diwali. The first time was in 2014, months after the BJP-led government came to power in the Centre. He had spent the day at Siachen, the world's highest battlefield and announced a Rs. 570 crore package for Jammu and Kashmir, which had been hit by the worst floods in 100 years a month before.

    "You make it possible for 125 crore Indians to celebrate Diwali happily. Your dreams and responsibilities are the responsibility of us all. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with you," he had told the soldiers.

    In 2015, he celebrated it at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.

    Last year, he spent Diwali at the border posts in Himachal Pradesh. "They say you should celebrate Diwali with your people and that's why I have come here," he had told the Indo-Tibetan Border Police or ITBP personnel at the Sumdo forward post in Kinnaur, close to the border with China.

Saina Nehwal Wins, P V Sindhu Loses In Denmark Open
  • India had a bitter sweet day at Denmark Open as Saina Nehwal knocked out Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain but title-contender P V Sindhu suffered a straight game loss against China's Chen Yufei to crash out of the opening round, here.

    Glasgow World Championship bronze medallist, Saina defeated two-time World champion Marin 22-20 21-18 in a hard- fought battle to avenge her Japan Open second round loss to the Spaniard. She will play either Thailand's Nitchaon Jindapol or Russia's Evgeniya Kosetskaya in the next round.

    Late in the day, Ms Sindhu, however, failed to break the rhythm of World No 10 Chen to go down fighting 17-21 21-23 in a 43-minute match. This is her second successive early loss as after clinching the Korea Open she had lost in the second round of Japan Open last month.

    Earlier, Indian top shuttlers Kidambi Srikanth and H S Prannoy made positive starts but B Sai Praneeth bowed out in the opening round of men's singles competition.

    World No 8 Mr Srikanth overcame a spirited effort from compatriot qualifier Subhankar Dey 21-17-21-15 to set up a clash with Korean Jeon Hyeok Jin, the 2016 Australian Open runners-up.

    On the adjacent court, Praneeth failed to erase 11-7 and 11-8 deficits to go down 10-21 15-21 to local hope Hans- Kristian Solberg Vittinghus in a lop-sided contest.

    World No 15 Prannoy, meanwhile, recovered from a 6-11 deficit in the second game to oust Denmark's Emil Holst 21-18 21-19 in a hard-fought match. It was his third win over the Danish shuttler. The Indian is likely to play former World No 1 Malaysian Lee Chong Wei on Thursday.

    Among other Indians in fray, young doubles specialist Satwiksairaj Rankireddy suffered twin defeats in mixed and men's doubles competition to end his campaign here.

    Satwik and his mixed doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa, who had reached the semifinals last week at Dutch Open, lost 19-21 17-21 to local combo of Niclas Nohr and Sara Thygesen.

    In men's doubles, Satwik and Chirag Shetty, who had reached the quarters at Korea Open, failed to get across Korean pair of Chung Eui Seok and Kim Dukyoung, losing 21-14 18-21 17-21 in the opening round.

    Experienced men's doubles combo of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy also lost 13-21 18-21 to Denmark's Mads Conrad-Petersen and Mads Pieler Kolding, while it was also curtains for Ashwini and Sikki in women's doubles after they went down fighting 21-15 18-21 21-23 to Malaysian combo of Chow Mei Kuan and Lee Meng Yean.

    Another mixed doubles pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy, who had reached the semifinals at Japan Open, also crashed out last night in the opening round after losing 17-21 15-21 to Irish combo of Sam Magee and Chloe Magee.

    The highlight of the day, however, was the match between Saina and Marin where the world no 12 Indian dished out a controlled game mixed with aggression and caution to outwit the World No 4 Spaniard.

    The match started on an aggressive note as both the players were locked in an initial battle before Saina managed to eke out a 11-9 lead at the break with the help of her better net play and disguished strokes. She moved to a 13-11 lead with accurate down the line smashes.

    But left-handed Marin kept breathing down her neck and leveled par with two points. Every time Saina grabbed a point, Marin came back with her trademark strokes and also took a crucial 19-18 lead with a net return.

    Once again Saina's down the line smash came to her rescue as she drew parity and soon grabbed the game point. Marin again came up with another precise net return to level par at 20-20. However, she hit wide next to hand over an opportunity to the Indian, who sealed it with another superb smash.

    After the change of sides, Marin started dictating terms initially moving to a 5-3 lead but a pumped up Saina soon came back to turn the tables at 7-6 when her opponent hit wide and managed to lead 11-8 at the break.

    After the interval, Marin narrowed the margin to 10-11 but Saina didn't allow the Spaniard to make a comeback as she jumped to a 16-11 lead. Marin made a last ditch effort to claw back at 18-20 but Saina soon shut the door without much ado.

    "I was moving well and finally it is about movements and picking up shots. She is the best player in the world and she is playing extremely well but I was happy with the way I was retrieving my shots," said Saina after notching up her fifth win over Marin in nine meetings.

    "I really don't know what I played today, everything happened so fast. The court is little fast, it was not a rally kind of court. The smashes were going well but anything could have happened but I picked up those difficult shots," she added.

    In another women's singles match, Sindhu conceded a 3-0 lead early on but she managed to erase the deficit when she drew parity at 9-9 and moved together till 17-17. It was at this moment when Chen stepped up and grabbed four crucial points to earn the bragging rights.

    In the second game, Chen once again surged to a 7-3 lead and Sindhu once again clawed back with four straight points but at the break, it was the Chinese who had a slender one-point lead.

    After the interval, Chen extended the lead to 15-11. Ms Sindhu managed to reduce it to 16-17. However, Ms Sindhu struggled to retrieve some low shots and with one of her net dribbles going to net meant Chen had four match points.

    Ms Sindhu then saved off four match points to make it 20-20 but eventually Chen closed out the match at 23-21 to avenge her World Championship loss to the Indian.

Business Affairs

Government imposes curbs on gold import by 4, 5 star export houses
  • The commerce ministry imposed restrictions on import of gold by four and five star export houses by stipulating that they would cease to be nominated agencies.
    Now, such export houses would be allowed to procure the precious metal only for their own use.
    According to an official, the restrictions imposed by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) is aimed at curtailing gold imports, which has surged by more than two- fold to USD 16.95 billion during the first half of 2017-18.
    "No nominated agency certificate shall be issued/ renewed for four star export house and five star export house status holders," the directorate said in a notification.
    Four and five star status are given to those export firms which have exported goods worth over USD 500 million and USD 2 billion, respectively, during the current and the previous two years.
    It also said import of gold by four and five star houses with existing nominated agency certificate would be subject to actual user conditions. They would be permitted to import gold as input only for the purpose of manufacture and export by themselves during the remaining validity period of nominated agency certificate.
    Nominated agencies are those which are authorised to import gold and sell to domestic entities.
    Surge in gold imports has a direct impact on current account deficit.

Inflation, fiscal uncertainty led to rate status quo
  • Citing medium term risks to inflation and uncertainties on external and fiscal fronts, RBI Governor Urjit Patel had pleaded for keeping interest rate unchanged, as per the minutes of the last Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meet released yesterday.
    He emphasised the need for keeping headline inflation close to 4 per cent on a durable basis.
    "We have to be vigilant on account of uncertainties on the external and fiscal fronts; this calls for a cautious approach," he said.
    The RBI Governor-headed six-member MPC had met on October 3 and 4 to decide this fiscals third bi-monthly monetary policy.
    Based on the majority view at the MPC meet, the central bank decided to maintain status quo and left key policy rate (repo) unchanged at 6 per cent despite a clamour for moderation to boost the economy which hit 3 year low of 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal.
    Chetan Ghate (Professor, Indian Statistical Institute), Pami Dua (Director, Delhi School of Economics), Michael Debabrata Patra (executive director), Viral V Acharya (RBI Deputy Governor) and Patel were in favour of the monetary policy decision, while Ravindra H Dholakia voted for a policy rate reduction of at least 25 basis points.
    "In my view, the policy rate should have been cut by 50 basis point long back in June 2017. A cut of 25 basis point in August was too small and too late. We can still make the additional cut of 25 basis point now if we want to be extremely cautious.
    "Otherwise, my opinion is that we have a space for a cut of about 40 basis point at present with due consideration to any possible upward risk to future inflation," Dholakia (Professor, IIM, Ahmedabad) had said at the MPC meeting.
    MPC had expressed concern that implementation of farm loan waivers by states may result in possible fiscal slippages and undermine the quality of public spending, thereby exerting pressure on prices.
    Acharya said at the meeting that RBI remains committed to improving the transmission of monetary policy.
    "I believe there is still some scope left for transmission of past monetary policy accommodation to existing loan portfolio that is tied to the base rate," said Acharya, who is incharge of monetary policy department.
    Noting that the recent structural reforms may have had some impact on growth in the short run, Patel said they will boost medium-to-long term growth prospects.
    "To improve immediate growth prospects, teething troubles relating to GST (Goods and Services Tax) need to be addressed expeditiously. Concerted efforts also need to be made to encourage investment activity by removing various constraints," he said.
    The minutes said MPCs decision was consistent with a neutral stance of the monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving the medium-term target for retail inflation of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent, while supporting growth. 

Gujarat government announces salary hike for teachers, municipal employees to get paid according to 7th Pay Commission
  • Ahead of Assembly polls in Gujarat, the state government has announced a slew of sops for teachers, employees of municipalities and others. The polls for Gujarat state Assembly are due later this year.
    The government said "fixed-pay" teachers of government-aided secondary and higher secondary schools across the state would get a significant hike in their salaries. Employees of 105 municipalities across the state would now get salaries according to the provisions of the 7th Pay Commission.
    The Gujarat government also raised the annual income cap from Rs 1.50 lakh to Rs 2.50 lakh for the 'Ma-Vatsalya' scheme for free medical treatment of up to Rs 2 lakh for serious ailments.
    "Till now, only people with an annual income of less than Rs 1.50 lakh were eligible for treatment of up to Rs 2 lakh at any of the government-approved hospitals. Now we have decided to raise this income limit to Rs 2.50 lakh, so that more people can benefit from the Ma-Vatsalya scheme," Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel told reporters in Gandhinagar yesterday.
    Around 7,000 "fixed pay" teachers -- whose salaries are fixed for five years -- as well as administrative staff of government-aided secondary and higher secondary schools will be given pay hikes.
    "We have decided to increase the monthly salary of 'fixed-pay' teachers of secondary schools from Rs 16,500 to Rs 25,000. Assistant teachers, who used to get Rs 10,500, will now get Rs 16,224. Administrative assistants will now get Rs 19,950 from the current salary of Rs 11,500," Patel said.
    A similar raise has been approved for teachers and administrative staff of higher secondary schools which are dependent on government grants, said Patel, who handles the finance portfolio.
    Around 15,000 employees of municipalities will also get a pay hike.
    Patel said the government had decided to give permission to 105 local bodies to pay salaries in accordance with the 7th Pay Commission.
    "Out of the total 162 municipalities in the state, 105 are paying their employees as per the 6th Pay Commission.
    Considering their demand, we have decided to allow these 105 local bodies to pay as per the 7th Pay Commission. This will benefit around 15,000 employees," Patel said.
    The Election Commission had last week announced the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh but not for Gujarat, though the terms of both the Assemblies expire almost at the same time.

China's economic growth edges down in latest quarter
  • China's economic growth stayed relatively stable in the latest quarter, buoyed by strength in retail spending and exports and giving the ruling Communist Party a political boost as it prepares to appoint President Xi Jinping to a new term as leader.
    Growth edged down to a still-robust 6.8 percent compared with a year earlier in the three months ending in September, down marginally from the previous quarter's 6.9 percent, government data showed Thursday.
    Economic growth has been unexpectedly strong this year, but forecasters say activity will weaken as Beijing tightens controls on bank lending to cool a rise in debt.
    Communist leaders are trying to steer China to slower, more sustainable growth based on consumer spending instead of exports and investment. Beijing has used repeated infusions of credit to prevent activity from slowing too abruptly, which has pushed up debt and delayed the economic rebalancing.
    In a speech Wednesday at a ruling party congress, Xi said China's "prospects are bright but the challenges are grim" in a rare acknowledgement of severe economic issues. He said the party would have to take big risks and overcome "major resistance."
    Thursday's data showed retail sales rose 10.3 percent in September over a year earlier, down slightly from the 10.4 percent rate of the first three quarters, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
    That was helped by a 34.2 percent rise in online commerce over a year earlier, an 8.1 percent improvement over the same period of 2016.
    Trade data reported earlier showed export growth accelerated in September to 8.1 percent from August's 5.5 percent.

    Trump, Modi committed to build ambitious partnership for the sake of peace, stability: Tillerson
    • US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are committed to building an "ambitious" partnership that benefits not just their countries but also other nations working towards peace and stability, America's top diplomat said today.
      US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a Washington audience that Modi's visit in June highlighted the many areas of cooperation that are already underway in this new era of strategic relationship.
      "President Trump and Prime Minister Modi are committed more than any of our leaders before them to building an ambitious partnership that benefits not only our two great democracies but other sovereign nations working toward greater peace and stability," said Tillerson in a major India policy speech before CSIS, a top US think-tank.
      Tillerson is scheduled to visit India next week.
      "My visit could not come at a more promising time for the US-India partnership. As you know, this year marks the 70th anniversary of relations between our two countries," he said.
      Tillerson said his relationship with India goes back to 1998, when he began working on issues related to India's energy security and has made many trips to Delhi.
      "It was a privilege to do business with Indian counterparts then, and it has been my great honour this year to work with Indian leaders as Secretary of State. I look forward to returning to Delhi next week, for the first time in my official capacity," Tillerson said.
      Referring to the fact that earlier this month, a shipment of American crude oil arrived in India, Tillerson said it was a tangible illustration of India and the US expanding their energy cooperation.
      The Trump Administration is determined to dramatically deepen ways for the US and India to work together, he asserted.
      Noting that more than 600 American companies operate in India, Tillerson said the US foreign direct investment has jumped by 500 per cent in the past two years alone.
      The bilateral trade hit a record of roughly USD 115 billion last year, a number US plans to increase, he said.
      "Together, we have built a sturdy foundation of economic cooperation as we look for more avenues of expansion," he said.
      The announcement of the first Global Entrepreneurship Summit ever to be hosted in South Asia, to take place in Hyderabad next month, is a clear example of how President Trump and Prime Minister Modi are promoting innovation, expanding job opportunities, and finding new ways to strengthen both economies, he said.
      Earlier today, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that India can help America in keeping an eye on Pakistan and ensure that it is held accountable for giving safe havens to terrorists. She also stated that for India to become a permanent member of the Security Council, global superpowers will have to agree to reform the structure of the UN body.
      Haley emphasised that one of the pillars of President Donald Trump's recently announced strategy for combating terrorism in Afghanistan and South Asia is the development of Americas strategic partnership with India.

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