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Current Affairs - 22 November 2017

General Affairs 

UNICEF: Most kids want leaders to take strict action against terrorism
  • Terrorism, conflict and war worry more than 50 per cent of children in India and 48 per cent of them are personally affected by terrorism, reveals a study conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund in India.
    The latest study conducted by the UNICEF notes that violence against children, changing environment and poor education is eating into the minds of kids as half of the children in India "worry a lot about conflicts and wars.
    A staggering 96 per cent of the children worry strongly about terrorism, and 70 per cent are plagued by the fear of violence against children and poor education. Only 11 per cent believe that war has not impacted them.
    Talking to Mail Today, Justin Forsyth, deputy executive director of UNICEF said, "The children covered under the survey have expressed fear about growing violence and UNICEF considers it a serious issue, particularly for girls.
    The current government has an existing policy on basic healthcare, education and nutrition, and we intend to work with the government on ground to improve the quality of education."
    Justin added that the UNICEF can help India in combating malnutrition by adopting models, such as Brazil's hunger campaign. "At the same time, India has made great strides in areas of vaccination and has some lessons for the rest of the world," he said.
    "The two main concerns for children in India are violence against children and poor education," the research highlights. The study gauges the impact of terrorism, such as the Peshawar school attack and similar such incidents of bombs explosion in public places.
    The study pointed out that that only five per cent of children in India 'do not' worry about terrorism.
    The survey, which was released on World Children Day on November 20, also revealed that most children want world leaders to take strict action against terrorism.
    "If the children could choose which action should be taken in the world today, the focus - according to the report - will be on terrorism, poverty and education, and the least focus would be reflected on unfair treatment being meted out to refugee and migrant children," the study said.

Cheque books to be banned? Report suggests Modi govt's next push for digital transactions
  • In yet another controversial and disruptive move - after demonetisation - aimed at encouraging digital transactions and create a cashless India, the Centre is likely to ban all cheque books, a decision that could affect the transaction preferences of millions of people in the country.
    News agency Press Trust of India (PTI), in a story dated November 16, has quoted a senior official of a prominent trade body as sayig that the government needs to encourage the use of debit and credit cards.
    Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal told PTI, "In all probability, the Centre may withdraw the cheque book facility in the near future to encourage digital transactions." He was talking to reporters at the launch of 'Digital Rath', a joint initiative of the CAIT and Mastercard to encourage traders to adopt different modes of digital transactions and promote cashless economy.
    "The government spends Rs 25,000 crore on printing of currency notes and another Rs 6,000 crore on their security and logistics. Moreover, banks charge 1 per cent on payments through debit card and 2 per cent through credit cards. The government needs to incentivise this process by providing subsidy directly to the banks so these charges can be waived," he said.
    Khandelwal claimed only five per cent of the total 80 crore ATM-cum-debit cards are used for cashless transactions, while 95 per cent of them are used for cash withdrawals.
    The ban is most likely to affect the trading community as it relies heavily on cheque books. Over 95 per cent transactions occur through cash and cheques.
    There is also a possibility that cheque transactions may have increased manifolds ever since demonetisation crippled cash transactions.

Rahul Gandhi's elevation will boost Congress young brigade but the old guard is likely to stay
  • As Rahul Gandhi is almost set to take over the reins of the Congress by December 5, political corridors are abuzz with possible names that could feature in Rahul's new core team.
    Speculations are rife that Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot and Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, both believed to be good friends of Rahul Gandhi, are likely to be a part of Rahul's new team post his near-certain elevation as Congress president.
    Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is the chief whip of the Congress in Lok Sabha, had hinted in July this year that Rahul Gandhi was likely to be elevated as the party president following the organisational polls and would be the face of the Opposition in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
    Scindia, a four-time MP, while stressing that the Congress needed to act on a gameplan at the earliest to prepare itself for the 2019 election, said that he was hopeful that Rahul Gandhi would work on it soon.
    Sachin Pilot, who faces a do-or-die battle next year as Rajasthan goes to polls, is also a possible contender for the chief minister's post if the Congress manages to oust the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government.
    Pilot has been vocal about his support to Rahul on numerous occasions and also backed him when the Congress vice-president made the now-famous statement on dynasty politics during his US visit.
    "The BJP should introspect. Many of their leaders are also from political families," Sachin Pilot had said following the huge backlash against Rahul after his UC Berkeley speech wherein he had said that most parties in India suffer from the problem of dynasty politics and therefore he alone should not be targeted.
    While Rahul is increasingly been seen as the party's de-facto head, his stamp of change has perhaps been the most evident when he brought in actor and former Lok Sabha MP Ramya to head the party's social media team in May this year, replacing Rohtak MP Deepender Hooda.
    Barring a few guffaws, Rahul's social media presence is much-talked about inside and outside the Congress circles. Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram recently said that Rahul's tweets and speeches have acquired a new edge.
    While young faces are likely to get more prominence in the Congress' organisational line-up post Rahul's elevation, the old guard is unlikely to be dismissed entirely.
    Some reports suggest that two senior leaders are likely to assist Rahul with the workings of the party after his coronation. 
    Further, Sonia Gandhi, who convened the Congress working committee (CWC) meeting on Monday that approved the schedule for the party president's election, is still expected to monitor the party from the background.
    Many old-timers share a great personal and professional rapport with Sonia Gandhi and shunning them entirely, that too just after his elevation, may backfire for Rahul.  
    Also, with the Lok Sabha election too close, doing away with old guard, many of whom enjoy huge support in their constituencies and home states, may prove costly for Rahul Gandhi.

Congress leaders playing with national security, says Amit Shah at Gujarat election rally
  • In what could be seen as setting the tone of BJP's campaign in Gujarat, BJP President Amit Shah, kicked off the first public rally in Bhavnagar on Tuesday morning.
    A major part of Shah's speech went on elaborating the actions of Modi government at the Centre in the last three years.
    He invoked the surgical strikes carried out by the Centre in response to Pakistani militants killing Indian soldiers. He recalled Congress leader P Chidambaram's comments on Kashmir's independence, and Shashi Tharoor's statement on Rohingya Muslims. Shah challenged Congress to clarify its stand on all these issues.
    "Earlier during Congress' rule, 250 days out of 365 used to see curfew in Gujarat. Ever since the BJP came to power in 1995, and especially since 2001 when Narendra Modi took over as the chief minister, there has been peace in Gujarat. When Congress was in power, Pakistani terrorists would come to India and assault Indian soldiers. But last year, when there was an attack in Uri, it was expected that the prime minsiter would again make some lame statements. But no. Narendrabhai made sure we retaliated with surgical strikes and taught them a lesson," he said.
    "Congress leaders are playing with national security. They should make their stand clear whether they support these statements given by their leaders or not," Shah added.
    Interestingly, he started his address blaming the Congress for diluting the agenda of this election by raking up caste conflicts in Gujarat and playing dynastic politics.
    He then went on to say, "Remember those years between 1980s and 1995, when Congress practiced 3Ts KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) formula. How people used to suffer due to riots. Since BJP has come to power, there have been no riots. Ask the generation born after 1995. They don't know what are riots," he said.
    This comment of Shah was aimed at the Patidar community, who was left out of the Congress's caste equation during Madhavsinh Solanki's reign in the 80s. It was during this phase that the Patidars turned towards BJP and have been its loyal votebank ever since.
    For Shah to cite KHAM is an indication in itself that BJP is looking to reach out to the Patidars who are allegedly supporting Hardik Patel's appeal to vote against the BJP this time.
    Shah accompanied BJP's Bhavnagar candidates as they filed their nomination at the Collectorate.
    Shah started his address asking the audience whether they get water or not or if they faced power issues. The crowd responded positively to these questions.
    However, when he asked if they would like to get engaged in caste wars again, the crowd's response was tepid.
    When Shah asked whether they felt shocked about Indian soldiers being killed in Pakistan and that shouldn't Congress clarify its stand on Rohingya Muslims. The crowd's response was nothing short of cold.

Convention allows Centre to delay Winter Session of Parliament, Constitution to skip it altogether
  • The Congress has registered a strong protest over delay by the Narendra Modi government in convening the winter session of Parliament ostensibly in view of the next month's Gujarat Assembly election. The government has defended its action stating that there has been precedence to shifting Parliament session keeping in mind state polls.
    Going by precedents and constitutional provisions, the Modi government may even be justified in not just shifting dates of the forthcoming winter session but also skipping it altogether.
    The Congress may intend to corner the government ahead of the crucial Gujarat polls, but in blaming the government, the party is scoring a self-goal.
    In her opening remarks at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting convened on Monday to announce election schedule for the party's presidential election, its president Sonia Gandhi launched a strong offensive on the Modi government.
    She said the centre, in its arrogance, has cast a dark shadow on India's parliamentary democracy by "sabotaging" the winter session of Parliament on "flimsy grounds".
    Sonia Gandhi, who is likely to make way for her Rahul Gandhi for the Congress president's post next month, alleged that in order to avoid the questions about "corruption in high places, conflict of interest of serving ministers and dubious defence deals" ahead of Gujarat elections, the government has taken the "extraordinary step" of not holding a winter session when it should be held.
    The Congress president launched a frontal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said he had the "audacity" to convene a midnight celebration in Parliament to launch an "ill-prepared and flawed" GST but he now lacks the courage to face Parliament.
    According to established convention since 1955, three sessions are held every year - budget, monsoon and winter. The dates of the sessions remain different.
    The dates vary. They are decided two to three weeks ahead of every session.
    However, there have been departures from conventions. New practices have been established in the recent past.
    For instance, till the year 2000, the budget would be presented at 5 pm. It was a practice since the British days.
    The time was aligned to suit India's colonisers as it would be around noon for them when budget would be presented at 5 pm Indian Standard Time (IST).
    However, the BJP-led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed the time for presentation of budget at 11 am to align with Indian conditions.
    Similarly, till 2016, the Union budget used to be presented on the last day of February. However, this year, it was advanced by a month and was presented on the first day of February.
    The budget presentation was advanced for the allocated funds to reach several departments for various schemes before the monsoon season. Earlier, would take two to three months for the funds reach the departments. Works would get hampered or further delayed due to the monsoons.
    In the third such departure from tradition, the Modi government merged the railway budget with the general budget this year. It ended a 92-year-old practice.
    Till last year, it used to be presented ahead of the main budget.
    Countering the Congress' criticism, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the winter session of Parliament would "certainly" be held.
    He claimed that Parliament sessions have been delayed in the past as well by the Congress. "They (Congress) did so in 2011, and even before that," he said.
    Jaitley said the government will announce the dates of winter session soon.
    Hence, there are precedents of the Congress government rescheduling dates for winter session in a way that they did not clash with elections.
    Hence, the delay this time in holding of winter session of Parliament is not unprecedented.
    Article 85 of Constitution - which deals with 'Sessions of Parliament, prorogation and dissolution' - states that "the President shall form time to time summon each House of Parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session".
    Parliament had met last during the monsoon session on August 11.
    Hence, Parliament can sit again before February 11.
    As Union budget is presented on February 1 now, this may well be called the budget session.
    Hence, the government may not commit a blunder by skipping the winter session. It may only depart from an established convention.

Business Affairs

GST Counil forms 10-member panel under GSTN Chariman to simplify returns filing
  • A 10-member committee was formed on Tuesday under GSTN chairman Ajay Bhushan Pandey to look into the requirements of filing returns in current financial year. Government has formed the panel in order to make filing GST returns easier.
    The committee comprises of tax commissioners from the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. It has been tasked to suggest if modifications are required in present structure of GST returns, aloing with required changes in rules, laws and format. The panel will submit its report by December 15.
    "We are also discussing with experts and taking opinion from various other stakeholders as to what simplification could be achieved. The whole idea is that people who are nil filers, who have no sale/purchase transactions, have taken a registration for some future use, they should be able to file GSTR-1 and GSTR-3B by pressing just a few buttons. That is our ultimate aim," Pandey told PTI.
    As many as 40 per cent of the businesses filing returns on GST Network (GSTN) portal have nil tax liability.
    The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council had announced forming the committee on November 10 to suggest ways for simplification of the returns filing process. It has also decided the filing of GSTR-2 (purchase returns) and GSTR-3 (the matching of sales and purchase returns) to be kept in abeyance till March 31. Now, businesses will have to file simplified initial GSTR-3B forms till March, along with sales returns GSTR-1.
    "The committee would look into simplification exercise because all (GST returns) are intricately connected," Pandey said, when asked if the committee would focus on only GSTR-2 and GSTR-3 or all the returns under GST.
    The committee will collect feedback from people, the trade and industry and study the whole system in detail and then come out with an appropriate plan.
    "If people have very minimal transactions, they should be able to file both the returns in a manner without going through full complications. Therefore, the display of the forms will be based on certain questions and the questions posed to the dealer," Pandey said.
    He added that the panel will also look into what information on returns should be taken and at what frequency.
    Pandey said the ultimate goal will be to provide convenience to people so that those who are filing the returns can do so without any difficulty.
    Pandey has been named the convener of the Committee, whereas Manish Kumar Sinha, Commissioner (Central Excise), CBEC will be its Member Secretary.
    The other members of the committee are Udai Singh Kumawat (Joint Secretary Revenue Department), Upender Gupta (Commissioner, GST), GSTN CEO Prakash Kumar and PD Vaghela (CCT Gujarat).
    According to the data, 55.87 lakh GSTR-3B returns were filed for July, 51.37 lakh for August and over 42 lakh for September. Preliminary returns GSTR-3B form for a month is filed on the 20th day of the next month after paying due taxes.
    According to the GSTN data, a huge chunk of businesses file their returns after the expiry of the due date. While only 33.98 lakh July returns were filed by the due date, the number has now gone up to 55.87 lakh.
    Similarly for August, 28.46 lakh returns were filed till the last date, but the figure went up to 51.37 lakh later. Also, for September, while 39.4 lakh returns were filed by the due date, the number is rising and was over 42 lakh till October 24.
    Also, the Council earlier this month substantially lowered late return filing fees for businesses from the Rs 200 at present. Businesses with nil tax liability will now have to pay only Rs 20 as late fee for delayed filing of return while for the rest, the fee is Rs 50.

FMCG firms ITC, Dabur, HUL and Marico slash prices after GST rate cut
  • A day after Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) chairperson Vanaja Sarna wrote to FMCG companies to follow the revised MRP rate list as per the recent tax reduction, FMCG companies, including ITC, Dabur, HUL and Marico, on Tuesday agreed to slash the prices of various products to pass on the benefits of the GST rate cut to end-consumers. Earlier, Dabur had said that the fresh production, which would hit the market next month, would also have the revised Maximum Retail Price (MRP). Analysts say with the increasing pressure from the government, more companies may fall in line soon.
    The Goods and Services Tax (GST) rate was reduced on 178 items, including detergents, shampoos and beauty products, from 28 per cent to 18 per cent from November 15.
    "ITC has modified the price of its relevant products keeping in mind the applicable rates under the recent GST notification," a company spokesperson told PTI. Similarly, an HUL spokesperson said: "We have reduced price for Bru Gold coffee from Rs 145 to Rs 111 on a 50 gm pack. Any further price changes will be communicated in due course."  HUL remains committed to passing on the benefits of GST reduction to the consumers, the spokesperson added.
    Likewise, Marico CFO Vivek Karve said the company has effected MRP reductions on products across categories such as deodorants, hair gels, hair creams, body care etc. "While the new production shifts to new reduced MRP immediately, we are passing on the benefits on existing stocks either through stickering the products with reduced MRP or by providing additional discounts to our trade channel partners," he said. Karve further said the company has also sent out communication to its partners to pass on the benefit of reduced taxes to the consumers.
    The company said it had also revised the MRP of fresh production with immediate effect which will hit the shelves by next month. When contacted, a Patanjali spokesperson said: "We welcome this step and the benefits must be transferred to the customers. We are evaluating over the quantum of decrease."
    On Monday, CBEC Chairperson Vanaja Sarna in a letter to all major FMCG companies had pointed out the need to immediately revise the MRP on all the products for which the tax reductions have been announced by the GST Council.
    GST rates on a number of items have also been reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent and from 12 per cent to 5 per cent. Items on which tax rate has been cut from 28 per cent to 18 per cent include chewing gum, chocolates, coffee, custard powder, dental hygiene products, creams, after-shave, deodorant, detergent and washing power, razors and blades, cutlery, batteries, goggles, wrist watches and mattress. Tax rate on condensed mil, refined sugar, pasta curry paste, diabetic food, and bamboo/cane furniture has been cut from 18 per cent to 12 per cent.

Modi government 'eyes' real esate sector, may make Aadhaar linking with property mandatory
  • Despite receiving criticism from several quarters over making Aadhaar linking with bank accounts, phone numbers, insurance policies, PAN, PPF, NSC, LPG connections mandatory, the government may now tighten the noose around immovable property transactions to put a stop on black money flow in the real estate sector. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has on several occasions hinted that demonetisation is just one step in curbing black money, and that many more steps would be taken to clean up the financial system in India.
    Housing Minister Hardeep Puri on Tuesday said he had no doubt the linkage would happen. "Such a move would go a long way in sucking out black money from real estate and also help in crackdown on benami properties," he added, reported the Economic Times. The minister, however, he said he would not make any statement on that but additional steps could help in sucking black money from the property market.
    Even as the government battles out in court the validity of making Aadhaar mandatory for welfare schemes, it is fast-tracking the process of seeding bank accounts with Aadhaar. Brushing aside all reservations on this account, the Reserve Bank of India clarified on October 21 that linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar is mandatory under the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017. At last count, 750 million bank accounts had been linked to Aadhaar. The deadline is December 31.
    On November 9, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) made it mandatory to link existing policies and new policies with Aadhaar. The latter is must for both life and general insurance policies like travel, home, heath and motor. While making the announcement, the regulator referred to Central government's gazette notification June 1, 2017, wherein it notified the Prevention of Money-laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017 and made Aadhaar and PAN/Form 60 mandatory for availing financial services including insurance and also for linking the existing policies with the same.

Tech-based interventions in hiring have their downsides: Survey
  • There is lot of technology and some bit of automation in recruitments today. Telephone interviews have been replaced by Skype calls - in some parts of India because of fraud. The person spoken to on the call is not the person who turns up at work. This is fairly common in bulk recruitments in sectors such as IT. Business Today had investigated such frauds before ( )

    Technology has perhaps aided more transparent and efficient hiring.

    However, a 'Tech and Touch survey' conducted by HR services company Randstad India found that tech-based interventions in hiring have their downsides. It said that while "technology, including AI, machine learning and automation, will play an increasingly important role in sourcing and selecting the right candidate for the right job, the touch piece of the recruitment process is becoming increasingly important". The survey was conducted in India across different age groups where a majority of the respondents were from the IT/ITeS sector, followed by Manufacturing and BFSI. Here are some of its key findings:

    1.    About 78 per cent of the survey respondents opined they perform better in personal interviews as compared to automated tests. About 58 per cent said that an automated interview process would be less transparent and will not provide the feedback they are seeking for. Some 83 per cent said that technology makes the interview process efficient but less personal.
    2.    About 52 per cent respondents have gone through an interview process where a significant part was aided by technology. The top three technology interventions were Skype/Google hangout (40 per cent), behavioral and technical online assessments (33 per cent), and automated calling apps (13 per cent).
    3.    About 94 per cent of the respondents stated that at least one round of the interview process needs human intervention; 75 per cent said that three or more interactions are a must during a standard interview process to make the hiring experience more personal.

       In the future, 76 per cent expected nearly half of the interview process to be automated, without any of human intervention.

    5.    About 78 per cent said that the availability of technology tools makes it easier to find and apply for jobs today; 43 per cent said that social and professional networks are the most effective channels to find a job, ahead of recruitment agencies and job boards.

    RIL share gains 2 per cent after 10-year-bond sale at lowest price, raises Rs 800 million
    • Reliance Industries (RIL) on Tuesday got an upside of over 25 per cent and gained 2 per cent as Goldman Sachs hiked the target price from Rs 960 to Rs 1,205. Goldman Sachs said in a statement that RIL provided the best large-cap downstream energy exposure in Asia, and that the company's operating income could double to $14 billion in March 2020.
      The research firm said that besides good stock, volume-led growth with capex cycle completion, refining margins to outperform peers and telecom business would contribute positively, reported Moneycontrol. The report highlighted that over the medium petchem could drive growth, while refining earnings would remain stable. RIL's latest venture, Jio, could reach operating income of over $5 billion by March 2025 but would start contributing from the next financial year, said the report. With capex intensity declining, it expects free cash flow to turn positive after five years with a yield of 6 per cent in the next financial year.
      Two days after the global credit rating agency, Moody, raised India's sovereign ratings, the company on Tuesday raised $800 million by selling 10-year bonds. The company said: "The bonds priced at 3.66 per cent were the lowest coupon ever achieved by an Indian corporate for a 10-year issuance."
      It can be noted that for the September quarter, RIL, which has a market capitalisation of close to Rs 6 trillion, had a cash pile of Rs 77,014 crore and a debt of Rs 2,14,145 crore, up from Rs 1,96,601 crore in the previous quarter. The Mukesh Ambani-led RIL has been borrowing heavily for expansion and entry into telecom space with Reliance Jio into which it has invested over Rs 1.4 trillion. That apart it has also pumped in over Rs 1 trillion into its core refining and petrochemicals expansion which is now completed.
      Moody's also gave Baa2 rating to the proposed unsecured bond sale by RIL. The bonds will rank pari passu with RILs other existing and future unsecured and unsubordinated obligations, it said assigning the Baar rating. "The Baa2 rating reflects RILs ability to generate operating cash flows, with annual Ebitda of over USD 10 billion from its large-scale integrated refining and petrochemical operations that generate strong margins, and its nascent but growing digital services business," said Vikas Halan, a vice-president and senior credit officer at Moody's. The rating also incorporates the increase in RILs business risk because of its growing digital services business and our expectation that high cash outflow for capital spending will keep its free cash flow negative over at least next 18 months", added Halan, who is also Moody's lead analyst for RIL.

    General Awareness

    Govt sets Rs 10000 min balance in bank accounts as rural poverty measure

    • Central Government has set Rs 10000 minimum balance in bank account as one of the 21 parameters to assess poverty in gram panchayats under ‘Mission Antyodaya’.
      About Mission Antyodaya:
      Union Rural Development Ministry’s ‘Mission Antyodaya’ aims to create 50000 poverty-free gram panchayats.
      • The goal is to converge, all existing government initiatives and schemes in these 50000 gram panchayats so that every household within these panchayats is benefited which shall consequentially lead to elimination of poverty.
      • 50000 gram panchayats will be grouped together in 5000 clusters. State wise list of gram panchayats selected for this mission has already been finalised.
      Overview of Parameters to assess poverty in a gram panchayats:
      21 parameters which have been finalised to measure the poverty status of gram panchayats under ‘Mission Antyodaya’ are placed under three broad categories viz. “economic development and diversification of livelihoods”, “social development and protection” and “infrastructure”.
      • One of the parameters to determine ‘economic development’ is number of households with a minimum Rs 10,000 in their savings account. Panchayats with higher number of households having minimum Rs 10000 in their savings account will be rated positively on the poverty index.
      • Earlier, the threshold for minimum balance in savings account was set at Rs. 20000. However after months of brainstorming, Rural Development Ministry has now fixed it at Rs. 10000.
      • Other parameters to measure “economic development and diversification of livelihoods” include number of families with bank loans for diversified livelihood, number of families employed in dairy and animal resources and those in non-farm employment with skills, markets and bank linkage.
      • Parameters to measure “social development and protection” include prevalence of malnutrition among children up to three years, number of girls completing secondary education and percentage of children with full immunisation.
      • “Infrastructure” development will be measured by considering all weather roads, open defecation free status, internet connectivity, community waste disposal system and number of families living in safe houses.

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