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Current Affairs - 03 November 2017

General Affairs 

Indian Army Launches Software To Manage Logistics
  • The Indian Army today launched a software application to manage logistics at unit level with speed, accuracy and transparency. The Integrated Quarter Master Package or IQMP, developed by the Army Software Development Centre along with TCS, was formally inaugurated by Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand.

    IQMP is a web-based application comprising 13 modules that automates logistics-related functions of an army unit and replaces numerous legacy applications such as Vastra and Quarter Master Package.

    "The application can be dynamically configured to meet specific requirements of army units and is capable of sharing information and data with other software applications in the domain of logistics management," an official statement said.

    "It will help in effective logistics management and decision-making, thereby assisting the Army units to be battle-ready at all times," the statement said.

    The army said the new application will play an important role in achieving automation of the Indian Army and prove to be a significant milestone towards a "digital army" in consonance with the Digital India initiative of the government.

China Does It Again, Blocks India At UN On Jaish Chief Masood Azhar
  • China today has once again blocked the move to have terrorist Masood Azhar, who heads the Jaish-e-Mohammed, blacklisted by the UN. The veto will create new friction with India, which has been pressing for sanctions that would freeze Masood Azhar's assets and ban international travel from Pakistan, where he lives.
    India, backed by the United States, France and UK, has been trying to get Masood Azhar added to a UN list of groups with ties to Al Qaeda. His Jaish-e-Mohammed is responsible for a series of deadly attacks in India including at the Uri military base in Kashmir last year in which 17 security personnel were killed.

    China, which is a member of the UN Security Council with the right to veto, said today it has rejected the move as "there is no consensus" on Masood Azhar's role in terror attacks in India.

    Such decisions must be based on cast-iron evidence, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said earlier this week.

    Reacting to China's move, New Delhi today said it "strongly believes that double standards will only undermine international community's resolve to combat terrorism."

    The wrangling over Masood Azhar, has become a major sticking point over the last two years between China and India.

    Delhi believes Beijing is backing its long-time ally, Pakistan, on a matter that endangers India's national security.

    Jaish-e-Mohammad has already been blacklisted by the 15-nation Security Council, but its chief has not.

    Last year in March, China was the only member in the 15-nation UN Security Council to block India's application against Masood Azhar.

    In August, China and India wound down their worst-ever border conflict in three decades. The confrontation between soldiers from the two countries was located on the remote and mountainous Doklam Plateau, where Indian troops stopped China from constructing a new road.

Elected Government Can't Be Sans Power, Top Court Told In AAP vs Centre
  • An elected government cannot be without any power, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government argued today as five top Supreme Court judges began hearing its challenge to a court verdict designating the Lieutenant Governor the administrative head of Delhi. Senior lawyer Gopal Subramaniam, representing the AAP government, made the argument before a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

    "We are not questioning parliamentary supremacy; but an elected government cannot be sans any power," Mr Subramaniam told the court.

    Last year, the High Court ruled that Delhi, as a union territory, is mainly in the charge of the Lieutenant Governor, who is the centre's representative in the national capital.

    Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP have repeatedly accused the Lieutenant Governor of encroaching on the state government's powers and blocking its decisions.

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    Mr Subramaniam referred to Article 239AA of the constitution, which gave special status to Delhi while placing it under the administrative control of the Lieutenant Governor. The article also said the national Capital Territory has a legislative assembly with powers to make laws but control over police, law and order and land would stay with the centre.

    The article, he said, brought in a democratically elected government to give voice to the people of Delhi."The Lt Governor cannot use his power under Article 239 AA (4) proviso to stultify daily governance," he said.

    The AAP government had in February told the Supreme Court that it has exclusive executive powers on matters within the ambit of the Legislative Assembly and "neither the Centre nor the President or the Lieutenant Governor can encroach upon these." The constitution has given a face and identity to a government in Delhi with Article 239AA and the executive decisions taken and implemented by it cannot be reversed by the Lieutenant Governor, it had said.

    In December last, the court observed that the Delhi government should have some powers, otherwise it cannot function while hearing the appeals of the city government.

Over 100 Per Cent Occupancy On Bullet Train Route, Says Railways In U-Turn
  • The route of India's first bullet train - a project close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's heart - is profitable and is packed to capacity even in off-season, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said on Wednesday, contradicting his ministry's previous response to an RTI or Right to Information query.

    "Contrary to media reports, Mumbai-Ahmedabad train section running at above 100% occupancy and will benefit immensely from bullet train," Mr Goyal tweeted.

    A Western Railway official, Manjit Singh, had said in response to the RTI query that the route on which the bullet train is to debut in 2023 has been a loss-making one with over 40 per cent of the seats going empty between July and September and Rs. 30 crore in losses.

    The RTI was filed by activist Anil Galgali who wanted to know whether the project, launched at a cost of Rs. 1.10 lakh crore, was viable on the route.

    The Western Railway has now put out a clarification and called Mumbai-Ahmedabad "one of the busiest routes of Indian Railways". 
    Chief Public Relations Officer Ravinder Bhakar said that the Railways earned R

    s. 233 crore on the route in those three months. Information about traffic and passengers at various stations on the way had not been given, he said, so the RTI reply had reflected "lesser occupancy."

    Mr Bhakar said despite July-September being a lean period, the occupancy "is still above 100%".

    On nine direct trains, bookings showed 103 per cent occupancy, he said. Also, there was "115% booking" on the 25 trains passing through Ahmedabad and 121 per cent in the return route.

    After the new Railways version, Mr Galgali questioned, "Why the huge discrepancy in the figures given by the WR Chief Commercial Manager under RTI and the WR spokesperson?"

    PM Modi, along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, launched the bullet train project in September, calling it a "giant step in fulfilling a long cherished dream". Critics, including the opposition Congress, have called the plan impractical.

2 Jawans Killed, Terrorist Shot Dead In Jammu And Kashmir
  • Two soldiers were killed and a CRPF jawan suffered injuries during a gunfight that broke out between terrorists and security forces in Pulwama district in south Kashmir today, police said. 

    The security forces shot dead a terrorist at Samboora in Pulwama, officials said. Security forces launched a cordon-and-search operation in Samboora village of Pampore area this evening following information about the presence of some terrorists there, the officials said.

    As the security forces were conducting searches, the terrorists opened fire, they said, adding that a gunfight ensued as the forces retaliated.

    Two Army soldiers were killed in the operation, the officials said. A CRPF jawan too suffered injuries.

Business Affairs

Pressure on other big banks to follow SBI, reduce lending rate for new borrowers
  • Four months ago when the largest bank, State Bank of India(SBI), reduced the savings rate from 4 per cent to 3.5 per cent, other large banks reacted immediately and reduced their savings rate by 10 to 50 basis points. Now that the SBI has reduced the lending rate for new borrowers by reducing the marginal cost of lending rate (MCLR) rate by 10 basis points to 7.95 per cent for a year, there is, however, a complete silence from other banks. They follow it later with a cut.
    ICICI Bank has a MCLR rate of 8.20 per cent for one year , which was last reduced in January 2017. Another private sector bank, Axis Bank has also reduced its MCLR to 8.25 per cent in January this year. Bank of India (BoI) tinkered with its MCLR in September this year, when it reduced its rate from 8.40 per cent to 8.30 per cent. Experts says the other banks will be forced to reduce MCLR rate because of the reduction in incremental cost of borrowing -- the savings bank rate has been cut by a massive 50 basis points.
    For MCLR rate calculation, apart from borrowing costs (savings, current and fixed deposits), the banks  also consider the repo rate, the rate at which banks borrow from RBI for meeting their temporary fund mismatches.  The repo rate is at 6.25 per cent. The RBI has slashed the repo rate by 250 basis points since January 2015 from 8.75 per cent to 6.25 per cent.  This transmission hasn't taken place fully as banks  tend to protect their margins  i.e reduce the borrowing cost as much as they can, but delay the lending rate cuts as far as they can.     
    Clearly, the borrowing cost for banks has been going down because of surplus liquidity post demonetisation. The banks - flush with funds - don't have many avenues to lend except retail  banking.  Therefore, it make sense to rely less on the high cost deposits by reducing the  savings and fixed deposit rates. In August this year, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and PSBs reduced their savings rate by a hefty 50 basis points. ICICI Bank reduced its savings rate  to 3.5 per cent for deposits of less than Rs 50 lakhs.  
    The RBI had  introduced the new MCLR  rate in  April last year.  The RBI is already reworking or revising the calculation of MCLR as the banks are taking time for transmitting the rates.

Mukesh Ambani pips China's Hui Ka Yan to become Asia's richest man
  • After being the richest Indian for over a decade, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani on Wednesday became the richest man in Asia, overtaking Chinese businessman Hui Ka Yan. Ambani rose to 14th rank on Forbes' Real Time list of billionaires across the globe. Forbes' Real Time list is based on the value of person's stock holding and assets on a real time basis.
    According to Forbes Real Time billionaires' list, Mukesh Ambani's wealth rose by $223 million to $41.8 billion on the back of rise in Reliance Industries Ltd stock price, whereas the wealth of Hui Ka Yan, the Chairman of China Evergrande Group slumped by $586 million to $41.2 billion on November 2.  
    With a net worth of $93.3 billion, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos raced past Bill Gates to become world's richest man. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ranked 2nd with his $89.5 billion fortune. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbeg stood at 5th spot with a $75.8 billion fortune. 
    Mukesh Ambani-led oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) had earlier posted a 12.5 per cent increase in consolidated net profit to Rs 8,109 crore in the September quarter of FY18, as against Rs 7,209 crore in the corresponding period of the previous year. RIL's telecom arm Reliance Jio logged a net loss of Rs 270.6 crore, beating street estimates.
    In 2016, Reliance sparked a price war in India's hyper-competitive telecom market with the launch of 4G phone service Jio. Jio has notched up 130 million customers by offering free domestic voice calls, dirt-cheap data services and virtually free smartphones, Forbes said.
    Last month, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani emerged as the richest Indian for the 10th year in a row on Forbes list as his net worth shot up to a staggering $38 billion (nearly Rs 2.5 lakh crore). Despite India's economic hiccups, tycoons on the 2017 Forbes India rich list saw their wealth soar with their combined fortunes rising 26 per cent to $479 billion (over Rs 31 lakh crore).
    Mukesh's younger brother Anil dropped to the 45th place with his net worth valued at $3.15 billion this year from the 32nd spot in 2016.
    The revenue of Reliance Industries Ltd increased by 23.9 per cent to Rs 101,169 crore ($15.5 billion) compared to Rs 81,651 crore in the corresponding period of the previous year. Commenting on strong Q2 earnings, RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani had said, "Our Company reported another quarter of robust performance. I am delighted to share that this includes the financial performance of Reliance Jio which had a positive EBIT contribution in its first quarter of commercial operations."
    "The results also reflect strong underlying fundamentals of our refining and petrochemicals businesses," Ambani had said.
    Surprising many analysts, Reliance Jio revenue for September quarter stood at Rs 6147 crore while Jio's EBITDA stood at Rs 1,442 crore. "The strong financial results of Jio demonstrates the robust business model of Jio and the significant efficiencies that the Company has built through its investment in the latest 4G technology and right business strategy. As always, the Group has demonstrated excellence in execution, vision and commercial acumen," Ambani had said.

Cryptocurrency dealers may face closure in India even as Bitcoin reaches new high of $7000
  • Cryptocurrency dealers might have to face closure in days to come. A government panel has reportedly recommended shutting down cryptocurrency dealers operating in the country to put an end to use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
    On the other hand, market experts believe that closing down cryptocurrency dealers or exchnages is not the way to stop use of cryptocurrencies. Government will have to put a stop on buying and selling of crptocurrencies in cash. In the event of their closure, buyers can always head out to foreign exchanges, experts told The Economic Times.
    The development comes at a time when Bitcoin, the oldest and most popular cryptocurrency in the world, is on a roll. The cryptocurrency has seen its value skyrocketing with respect to every major currency on positive global signs. Coming to India though, even the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has refused to accept cryptocurrency citing security reasons.
    Bitcoin gold rush in the US
    Meanwhile, Bitcoin raced past the $7000 milestone for the first time ever riding on back of positive cues today. The most popular cryptocurrency went as high as $7,066.44 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange on Thursday.
    With this jump, Bitcoin has grown seven times since the start off this year. Bitcoin has grown leaps and bounds in terms of value in recent months, with 200 per cent growth during the course of past seveen weeks alone. In terms of India Rupee, one unit of Bitcoin now equals more than Rs 4.54 lakhs as of today. Only three months ago, Bitcoin was valued at Rs 1.79 lakh.
    This latest spike in value takes bitcoin's aggregate value, or "market cap" -- its price multiplied by the number of bitcoins released into circulation -- to more than $117 billion, a Reuters report quoted industry website Coinmarketcap. This forms a substantial part the aggregate value of all cryptocurrencies, which is now at a record high of over $190 billion according to website.
    Globally, things have been quite favourable for the cryptocurrency, driving its lucrative growth. The latest rally came after the announcement by world's largest derivatives exchange operator CME Group earlier this week that it is going to launch bitcoin futures. This move will open avenues for the cryptocurrency to enter mainstream markets.

SBI cuts home loan, car loan rates by 5 basis points
  • In a relief to its customers, State Bank of India (SBI) has slashed rates on its home and car loans. Following a cut in MCLR by 5 basis points, bank has reduced home loan interest rates to 8.30 per cent per annum while rate on auto loan has been lowered to 9.20 per cent per annum. With this reduction, SBI's offering in the home loan segment has become the lowest in the market, claims bank. The new rates will be effective from November 01, 2017.
    Bank charges a spread of 40 basis points on its MCLR for home loan. On the other hand, the salaried women borrowers have to pay 35 basis points over and above MCLR for home loan. One year MCLR rate stands at 7.95 per cent against 8 per cent earlier. For car loan customers, where spread on MCLR is 1.25 per cent, the lending rate now stands reduced to 9.2 per cent from 9.25 per cent earlier. The same is 9.15 per cent  for women loan borrowers due to a lower spread on MCLR applicable to them.
    It must also be noted that SBI has reduced the rates within weeks of Rajnish Kumar taking charge at the helm for a term of three years.
    Since April 1, 2016, banks started following marginal cost lending rate (MCLR) as the new benchmark lending rate for new borrowers across all floating loans. MCLR includes marginal cost of funds, negative carry due to CRR (cost that banks incur on keeping funds with the RBI as CRR), operating costs and tenure premium (costs arising from loan commitments with a longer tenor). The final lending rate charged to a customer includes spread to the MCLR.
    SBI has changed MCLR rate after ten months. Despite a 25 basis points cut in August that reduced policy rate to 6 per cent from 6.25 per cent, banks didn't cut down MCLR.  
    Recently, an internal group set up by the central bank had suggested replacing MCLR with an external benchmark to determine the rates on floating rate loans with effect from April 1, next year. The internal study group had observed that the MCLR-based rate system had failed to effectively transmit monetary policy changes.
    The cut in the rates by SBI is expected to be followed by other banks too.

    Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel to invest Rs 25,000 crore on 4G network
    • Telecom major Bharti Airtel on Wednesday said that it will invest Rs 25,000 crore this fiscal year to expand 4G network in the country. The company has increased its spending by Rs 5,000 crore from its earlier budget. Airtel's latest push on 4G expansion has come in the backdrop of recent data explosion triggered by Reliance Jio.
      Bharti Airtel MD and CEO for India and South Asia Gopal Vittal believes that in next 3-4 years the company is likely to see 3G network actually shut down faster than 2G network because there are still 50 per cent of phones being shipped out in India that are feature phones. He further suggested that the company may shut down 3G network in 3-4 years and refarm the spectrum linked with it for 4G services. Airtel is investing in 4G technology to build more data capacity in the network.
      Airtel Chief Financial Officer Nilanjan Roy on Wednesday said: "To accelerate our 4G roll out in terms of coverage and also build additional capacities in existing geographies, our (Airtel) capex forecast for the year is being upped from initial guidance of Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 25,000 crore."
      Airtel's move has come a month after TRAI report revealed telecom companies' upload and download speed. Earlier this month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India put out a report on 4G download speeds across the country in which Airtel figured at fourth position with 8.550 mbps. Reliance Jio topped with 18.433 mbps, followed by Vodafone at a distant second with 8.999 mpbs. On 3G network, Airtel was at second position with 3.158 mbps. The situation for Airtel is no different when it comes to 4G upload speeds. The TRAI report ranked Airtel fourth here as well.
      Bharti Airtel MD and CEO Vittal on Wednesday said that in some telecom circles the company has installed modern 3G equipment which can support 4G services but the initially deployed equipments for 3G services will need to be replaced. "Where we have the second career of 3G or third career then through flip of software you get incremental capacity on 3G. Most of that spectrum will finally go towards 4G for which we will need to have radio units," Vittal said.
      Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio had offered free internet services for over six months that led to massive data consumption, forcing other telecom operators to step up the game. According to the latest financial report, Reliance Jio saw total wireless data traffic during the FY18 Q2 at 378 crore GB.
      While speaking at the India Mobile Congress in September, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said that his company will invest up to Rs 20,000 crore to build digital infrastructure. Airtel chairman sought government's support in fast tracking the pace of growth and achieving India's vision. Mittal urged states as well as municipalities to recognise the power of digital India and enable easy on-ground implementation of policies like the right-of-way. "Airtel will invest Rs18,000-Rs20,000 crore this year to build digital infrastructure," he had said.

    General Awareness

    Italy PM Paolo Gentiloni’s two days visit to India

    • On October 29, 2017, Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni arrived in India for two-day official visit. Mr. Gentiloni was accompanied by a 15-member delegation of Italian businessmen.
      • This is the first visit to India by an Italian Prime Minister in last ten years.Romano Prodi was the last Italian Prime Minister to visit India.
      • During the course of this visit, Mr. Gentiloni met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India President Ram Nath Lovind and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
      • The focus of Mr. Gentiloni’s visit was to give an impetus to economic and commercial cooperation between India and Italy.
      • It is to be noted that in 2018, India and Italy will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.
      India, Italy vow to combat terror, boost trade; ink 6 pacts
      On October 30, 2017, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni held extensive talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues such as terrorism, cyber crime, and ways to strengthen political and economic relations.
      • In a joint statement issued after the meeting, both the Prime Ministers called on all countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens, their infrastructure and networks and halting cross-border movement of terrorists.
      • Both the leaders also resolved to enhance cooperation to take decisive and concerted actions against terror groups such as the Al-Qaeda and the ISIS.
      • After the meeting, India and Italy signed six pacts to deepen cooperation in the fields of railways sector safety, energy and promoting mutual investments.
      • As per Indian trade data, Italy is India’s fifth largest trading partner in the European Union (EU). Bilateral trade between India and Italy stood at $8.79 billion in 2016-17.
      Six pacts signed between India & Italy:
      1A joint declaration of intent of cooperation for safety in the railway sector.
      2MoU on cooperation in the field of energy.
      3MoU for promoting mutual investments between the Italian Trade Agency and Invest India.
      4MoU to mark 70 years of India-Italy diplomatic relations between the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
      5MoU between the training unit of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Foreign Service Institute of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
      6An executive protocol on cultural cooperation
      Alitalia re-starts direct flight service to India
      On October 30, 2017, Italian airline Alitalia re-started direct flights to India after a gap of nine year. The direct flight will connect New Delhi and Italian capital, Rome.
      • Alitalia has deployed a 250- seater Airbus 330 aircraft for this direct flight between New Delhi and Rome which will operate daily for the whole winter season until March 24, 2018.
      • As per official data from Italy, around 4.26 lakh travellers visited Italy in 2015.
      • Alitalia’s decision to resume direct flight service to India will not only meet the increasing demand for flights between the two countries but would also help strengthen bilateral trade relations.
      Quick Facts about Italy:
      • Capital – Rome
      • Currency – Euro
      • Current Prime Minister – Paolo Gentiloni

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