Current Affairs Current Affairs - 09 January 2018 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 09 January 2018

General Affairs 

AgustaWestland scam: Italy court acquits former chiefs of VVIP chopper firms in setback for India
  • An Italian court acquitted former AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini and former Finmeccanica (now Leornado) chief executive Giuseppe Orsi, of charges related to alleged bribes paid in exchange for a multi-million-euro contract to sell 12 helicopters to the Indian government.

    The operative part of the Milan Court of Appeal's judgement reads: "There isn't sufficient proof."  

    In December 2016, the Italian Supreme Court had ordered a re-trial of this case, after these two former executives were found guilty on corruption charges related to the contract. Both the accused had moved the Milan Court of Appeal.

    The Indian government had also moved the Italian court as a civil party, claiming damages due to alleged corruption by top executives of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland. According to Italian prosecutors, kickbacks were given by the then -management of the Italian defence firm through three middlemen : Guido Ralph Haschke, Christian James Michel and Carlo Valentine Gerosa.

    The case came to light following the arrest of a former Finmeccanica executive back in 2012. This executive informed Italian police that kickbacks had been given to India in order to secure the VVIP Chopper deal.

    This information lead to extensive surveillance of  Finmeccanica's top management and Italian middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke.

    UPROAR

    In early 2013, Guido Haschke was arrested in Switzerland, and later turned into a witness.

    A massive uproar broke out back in India, once the news of corruption spread. Indian agencies swung into action.

    Central Bureau of Investigation has already filed a separate chargesheet in a Delhi court, where former Air Chief SP Tyagi is among others facing corruption charges.

    'NO EFFECT ON TRIAL IN INDIA'

    After today's verdict, CBI sources told India Today, "In Milan, India was only a civil party and not the prosecutor...this verdict of Milan Court will not have any effect on the trial back in India because CBI has enough evidence."

    Speaking to India Today on the phone from Abu Dhabi, Christian Michel, one of the middlemen in this case, said "I have been saying this from beginning that no political corruption took place as it was being alleged and reported. Now that (the) Milan court has vindicated, it's time for Indian government to clear this huge mess".

    After today's verdict, all three middlemen - including Michel and Haschke - are free from any charges in Italy. However, both of them remain wanted for prosecution back in India.

    Last year, Haschke used his Italian case status to get rid of an Interpol Red Corner Notice against him. It's also expected that the other accused, including former Air Chief SP Tyagi, can use this verdict in their defense back in India.

    What's more, the Congress will have another reason to be aggressive against the ruling BJP, as this is the second instance after the 2G verdict in which a UPA-era scam has been nullified by a court.

    Italian prosecutors have the right to appeal against the Milan court's order, but there is no official word from their side yet.

Budgam encounter: Two more militants killed; death toll now three
  • Two more militants have been killed in an encounter at Chadoora area of central Kashmir's Budgam district on Monday, taking the death toll of militants to three.

    A senior police officer told India Today that the operation has been concluded with the killing of two more militants.

    "Among the slain militants, two are said to be foreigners (Pakistanis). One among them is a local from neighbouring Pulwama district namely Firdous Ahmad Mir," the officer said.

    The officer added that the identity of the remaining two are being ascertained.

    Earlier, a joint team of army, SOG and CRPF following a specific information had launched a cordon-and-search operation in the area.

    As the joint team of forces intensified the searches, the hiding militants opened fire triggering off an encounter.

    Soon after the news about the encounter spread, the people, mostly the youth, took to streets at Chadoora and its adjoining areas and started pelting stones on security forces.

    The forces resorted to teargas shelling and used some aerial shots to disperse the protesting people.

    In the meantime, the busy market at Chadoora shut down spontaneously.

    Meanwhile, in wake of the encounter, the authorities have blocked internet services in Budgam and Pulwama districts to maintain law and order.

China agrees to stop construction in Arunachal Pradesh
  • China has agreed to stop road construction activity at Bhising area in upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.

    Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, while speaking to media persons in New Delhi today confirmed the same. "The Tutting incident has been resolved after a border personal meeting," Rawat said.

    It has been sorted out & we have had our Border Personnel Meeting after that: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat on face-off with China in Arunchal Pradesh pic.twitter.com/KCGRfQ4Kfn

    &; ANI (@ANI) January 8, 2018
    It was on December 26, 2017 India discovered that China was trying to construct an operational track - an unpaved road for movement of men and material - along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.

    The Chinese labour retracted after Indian troops objected to the road building, while leaving behind earth excavators and water bowsers.

    The Indian and Chinese troops had a meeting on January 6 over the issue.

    "The Chinese reacted very maturely. They accepted that differing perception of the border led to crossing the Line of Actual Control," a senior officer aware of the developments told India Today.

    "China has assured us that it won't be using the road now," he added.

    Following the Border Personnel Meeting, India returned the excavators and water bowsers to China.

    Chinese efforts to construct a road in upper Siang had sparked considerable concern in New Delhi. The fresh road building activity began a few months after the 73-day stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops at the Doklam plateau in Bhutan.

    The stand-off between both the troops near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction started on June 16, when a People's Liberation Army (PLA) construction party entered the Doklam area and attempted to construct a road on land that is claimed by Bhutan.

Tribune Aadhaar data breach story: Govt says committed to press freedom, FIR against unknown
  • As outrage, especially among journalists, grew over the FIR filed against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira, the government today said it is committed to the freedom of press, and that the police report has been filed against unknown people.

    "The government is fully committed to freedom of press as well as to maintaining security and sanctity of Aadhaar for India's development. The FIR is against unknown (sic). I've suggested @UIDAI to request Tribune and its journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders," Union Law as well as Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted.

    Govt. is fully committed to freedom of Press as well as to maintaining security & sanctity of #Aadhaar for India's development. FIR is against unknown. I've suggested @UIDAI to request Tribune & it's journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders.

    ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN 10 POINTS:
    Last week, in a widely shared report, The Tribune claimed that it took just Rs 500 and 10 minutes for the newspaper to get access through an "agent" to every detail of any individual submitted to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), including the name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number, and email.

    After the January 3 news report with the headline - 'Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details' - was published by The Tribune, the UIDAI registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira.

    The FIR, lodged with the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police's Crime Branch, invokes serious charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Information Technology Act, and the Aadhaar Act.

    The UIDAI also claimed its search facility for grievance redressal may have been "misused" but denied any breach or leak of Aadhaar data.

    The UIDAI move attracted widespread criticism from press bodies, the Editors' Guild, and journalists from across the country who demanded a withdrawal of cases against the newspaper and its reporter.

    "The Tribune will explore all legal options to defend its freedom to undertake serious investigative journalism," the Chandigarh-based daily's Editor-in-Chief Harish Khare said in a note on the newspaper's website on Sunday.
    "We at The Tribune believe that our stories were in the nature of a legitimate journalistic exercise. Our story was in response to a very genuine concern among the citizens on a matter of great public interest," Khare said in the note.

    "We regret very much that the authorities have misconceived an honest journalistic enterprise and have proceeded to institute criminal proceedings against the whistleblower. We shall explore all legal options open to us to defend our freedom to undertake serious investigative journalism," he added.

    The FIR mentions the names of the journalist and the people the reporter reached out to purchase the Aadhaar data, but they have not been shown as accused, the police said, adding that they will be questioned.

    Rachna Khaira, the reporter who has been named by the police, said she was happy about the development as she had "earned" the FIR. "I think I have earned this FIR. I am happy that at least the UIDAI has taken some action on my report and I really hope that along with the FIR, the Government of India will see what all breaches were there and take appropriate action," she told a television channel.

Centre to propose plans for a paperless parliament
  • As a part of its 'Go Green initiative', the government is proposing a shift of the hallowed portals to a paperless and digitised version, in the Parliament and State Assemblies.

    The Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar is expected to put the 'paper free' plan forward at All India Chief Whips Conference in Udaipur.

    The two day conference will witness a meeting of the Whips of Parliament and Legislature and the Ministers of Parliamentary Affairs (MoPA) of various states.

    The MoPA aims for a digitised Parliament and state legislatures. The step is being seen as transparent, responsive, and accountable to people. Moreover, it will be in line with the Digital India plans of the government.

    Over the past few years, the Union government has worked to cut down on its paper consumption. It has reduced printing of hard copies of documents and reports, to a great extent.

    In 2016, the government almost halved the number of printed Budget copies from its previous year figure of 5100, said a report in The Hindu.

    In 2017, only Members of Parliament got hard copies of the Budget while the Finance Ministry uploaded the Budget speech and proposals on its website.

    Lawmakers on the other hand, believe that even though the idea is theoretically good, it is tough to implement. "It sounds very nice when we say paperless, but it's like saying cashless after demonetisation. By the next decade, if we get halfway there, we could consider ourselves lucky," said Derek O'Brien, Leader of the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha.

    The 18th Whips conference in Udaipur will be inaugurated by Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ananth Kumar.

    Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia will be the chief guest of the inaugural session.

    According to a report of DNA, the conference will take place from today and will see the rollout of e-Sansad and e-Vidhan.

Business Affairs

Deadline for linking Aadhaar with saving schemes extended till March 31
  • Over 20 days after the Supreme Court extended the date of Aadhaar linking with welfare schemes and services till March 31, the central government on Monday extended the deadline for linking of biometric identification Aadhaar to small savings schemes like post office deposits and Kisan Vikas Patra by three months to March 31. "It has now been decided to extend the last date for submission of 'Aadhaar' number from December 31, 2017 to March 31, 2018," a Finance Ministry notification said. Earlier, the top court had also ruled that new bank accounts could be opened without an ID number, but that it had to be furnished by March 31.

    In October, the government made 12-digit Aadhaar mandatory for all small savings schemes like post office deposits, PPF, the National Savings Certificate scheme and Kisan Vikas Patra. Existing depositors were given time till December 31, 2017 to provide the unique number. It is to be noted that the government extended the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail the benefits of various government schemes till March 31. As many as 135 schemes (of 35 ministries) including the free cooking gas (LPG) to poor women, kerosene and fertiliser subsidy, targeted public distribution system (PDS) and MGNREGA will be covered by the extension.

    The government has insisted on quoting Aadhaar for bank deposits, obtaining mobile phone and several other utilities to weed out benami deals and blackmoney. The depositor was required to submit Aadhaar number at the time of opening of account/purchasing certificates, it said. Further, that every depositor who had not given his Aadhaar number at the time of application for such deposit was to submit his Aadhaar number on or before December 31, 2017.

    Besides, the Aadhaar data leak controversy has also caught fire with the government lodging an FIR against a reporter of an English daily who recently investigated the story on how the Aadhaar data can be "purchased" merely on WhatsApp by paying Rs 500 via Paytm. The report published on January 4 had claimed the anonymous agent provided a login ID and password to a portal where the correspondent could enter any Aadhaar number and gain instant access to all of its details including name, address, phone number, photo and email. The Centre on Monday asserted that it is committed to the freedom of the press. The UIDAI has also said it is looking into the case, but assured there has been no data breach of biometric database.

Sensex, Nifty close at record highs on Q3 earnings optimism
  • Stocks rose to fresh life-time closing high levels on optimism over earnings, growth and upcoming budget, with the benchmark BSE Sensex jumping 199 points to end at record 34,352.79 and Nifty scaling the 10,600 mark for the first time.

    Gains in key IT, capital goods, healthcare and metal stocks after consistent buying by domestic and foreign investors helped both the key indices to scale new peaks.

    The 30-share Sensex opened higher and continued its upward march to touch a new intra-day record high of 34,385.67, surpassing its previous high of 34,188.85 hit on January 5.

    But it lost some ground due to profit-booking and settled up by 198.94 points, or 0.58 per cent, at 34,352.79 -- its all-time closing high. The Sensex bettered its previous record of 34,153.85 touched on January 5.

    Similarly, the broader 50-issue NSE Nifty hit a new intra-day high of 10,631.20, smashing its previous record of 10,566.10 hit on January 5.

    However, he index shed some grounds to close at 10,623.60, still a new closing high, up by 64.75 points or 0.61 per cent. It broke the previous record of 10,558.85 reached on January 5.

    "Supportive global market and optimism ahead of earnings season took the market to a new high. A cut in FY18 GDP growth estimate by CSO did not impact the movement since it was overtly conservative. Revival in earnings, incremental QoQ growth in GDP and Budget expectations are sustaining the momentum," Vinod Nair, Head of Research, Geojit Financial Services Ltd.

    The CSO on Friday said that India's growth is likely to slow down to 6.5 per cent in 2017-18 against 7.1 per cent in 2016-17 and 8 per cent in the preceding year mainly due to impact of GST on manufacturing and subdued farm output.

    "Sentiments were also boosted by the positivity from global peers and expectations on the upcoming union budget, anticipating reforms for fiscal consolidation and enhancements in rural spending. Recovery in dollar rode the pharma and IT stocks higher," Anand James, Chief Market Strategist, Geojit Financial Services said.

    Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) have been supporting the ongoing rally in the new year by pumping in sizeable money into the market. FPIs bought shares to the tune of Rs 581.43 crore while domestic institutional investors (DIIs) purchased shares worth a net Rs 243.13 crore last Friday, as per provisional data from the stock exchanges.

    Coal India was the best gainer among Sensex components by surging 3.26 per cent, followed by Infosys 2.33 per cent and Sun Pharma by2.28 per cent to Rs 591.95.

    L&T too showed strength and ended 1.80 per cent higher after the company said its construction arm has won orders worth Rs 2,265 crore from Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority.

    Other big gainers include Hero MotoCorp, IndusInd Bank, ITC Ltd, Hindustan Unilever, HDFC Ltd, Wipro, Tata Motors, Reliance Industries, ICICI Bank, M&M, Kotak Bank, Maruti Suzuki, Yes Bank, Power Grid and HDFC Bank, rising by up to 1.37 per cent.

    In contrast, Bharti Airtel, ONGC, SBI, Tata Steel, Adani Ports and Dr Reddy's ended lower on profit-booking.

    Among sectoral indices, IT stayed in the lead by surging 1.40 per cent, followed by capital goods index 1.22 per cent, healthcare 1.20 per cent, realty 0.87 per cent, metal 0.78 per cent, FMCG 0.78 per cent, oil & gas 0.67 per cent, teck 0.66 per cent and infrastructure 0.39 per cent.

    While telecom index ended 2.64 per cent lower as investors booked profits at higher levels.

    The market rally lifted the mid-cap index by 0.98 per cent and small-cap 0.97 per cent.

    In the Asian region, Shanghai Composite gained 0.52 per cent while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.28 per cent. Financial markets in Japan remained shut for a public holiday.

    In the Eurozone, markets were trading higher in their early deal, tracking a broadly upbheat session in Asia. Paris CAC 40 rose 0.17 per cent, while Frankfurt's DAX was up by 0.19 per cent in late morning trade. London's FTSE, however, shed 0.13 per cent.

Railways targets 100% Wi-Fi enabled stations across India by 2019 at cost of Rs 700 crore
  • The Indian Railways is promising free Wi-Fi at speeds of 20-40 MBPS in 257 railway stations in the country, which is better than what we get at most homes. Not only that, the railway ministry is now ambitiously looking at equipping each and every railway station across the country, numbering nearly 8,500, with Wi-Fi facilities at the cost of Rs 700 crore. The ministry timeline targets 600 Wi-Fi enabled railway stations by March 2018 and 100 per cent station Wi-Fi coverage by March 2019.

    The Station Wi-Fi project, launched in 2016 as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India initiative, provides free Internet to passengers under Railwire, the retail broadband distribution model of RailTel Corporation of India Limited. RailTel is a Mini Ratna PSU and one of India's largest neutral telecom infrastructure providers owning a pan-India optic fiber network on exclusive Right of Way (ROW) along railway tracks that has roped in Google to provide tech support and set up the wireless infrastructure. Around seven million rail passengers are already benefitting from this facility but it is currently limited to select A1, A and some B-listed stations only.

    According to Railtel, "This initiative is part of bridging the digital divide & providing high speed access network to all rail users with financial inclusion of local cable operators...Once (fully) implemented this shall be one of the largest public Wi-Fi projects in the world."

    As per the plan finalised at a recent railway ministry meeting, 1,200 stations have been identified for this facility to primarily cater to rail passengers. Significantly, a whopping 7,300 stations have reportedly been earmarked to also serve the local population in rural and remote areas - in addition to train commuters - to promote e-governance as part of the digital makeover of rural India. According to media reports, railway stations in rural areas will have Wi-Fi enabled kiosks that will become digital hotspots offering services such as digital banking, tax filing, paying bills, Aadhaar generation, issuing government certificates, including birth and death certificates, among others. The kiosks will also enable the local populace to order and receive goods from e-commerce portals. "These kiosks will be operated at stations with private participation for the local population," said a senior Railway Ministry official, adding, "The modalities of setting up such digital hotspots are being worked out with the Telecom Ministry."

    Presently, RailTel has created over 45,000 km of optic fiber network connecting over 4,500 cities and towns on the network. But the ministry's plan for 100 per cent Wi-Fi enabled stations in the next 14 months seems overtly optimistic considering that since February 2017, only 142 additional railway stations have been included in the project. According to Inc42 Media, work is in progress at 161 more railways stations but it is slow going due to a limited number of partners like Google coming on board.

    The free Wi-Fi service works on a model where there is no cap on the volume of data consumed. However, as there are no free lunches in the world, after the first 30 minutes of usage, the Internet speed one would enjoy would be gradually reduced. But it's still free, and fast. Wondering what's in it for Google, apart from public gratitude? "For Google, this is an ecosystem project. Our idea with this is to make sure there is more and more broadband adoption. The more the adoption, the more people come online, and the greater the economic impact. When there is economic impact on digitisation, we get directly impacted because we are a stakeholder in the digitisation of the country," Gulzar Azad, head of connectivity, Google India had explained earlier. And the Indian Railways gets less irate customers.

Jindal Steel and Power stock rises up to 13% on plan to raise Rs 1,000 crore via QIP
  • The Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) stock rose up to 13% intra day after the firm said it would raise Rs 1,000 crore through qualified institutional placement (QIP) route in February.

    At 1:40 pm, the stock was trading 7.96% or 19.05 points higher at 258.35 on BSE. The stock hit an intra day high of 270.30 or 31 points higher from previous close.

    The stock is up 25.72% or 52.85 points since the beginning of this year. On an yearly basis, the stock has risen 251 percent or 184.85 points on BSE.

    The stock closed at 239.30 level on Friday.

    The company also plans to raise up to Rs 2,000 crore by listing its Oman business on foreign exchange. "We will raise Rs 1,000 crore by equity sale next month,"  chairman Naveen Jindal said.

    He also said there is plan to raise another Rs 1,500-2,000 crore in just four months by listing Oman operations on foreign exchanges. If both figures are added then about Rs 3,000 crore will be raised by JSPL during 4-6 months, Jindal said without disclosing that on which exchange Jindal Shadeed Oman will be listed.

    Meanwhile, BSE has sought clarification from Jindal Steel & Power Ltd on January 08, 2018 with reference to news "Jindal Steel & Power surges 13% as Co will raise Rs 1,000 crore via QIP" published on a leading financial and market news website.

Setback for Indian Navy: Rs 32,000 crore project to build 12 minesweepers scrapped, says report
  • A Rs 32,000-crore project to indigenously build 12 minesweepers at the Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL) in collaboration with South Korean firm Kangnam Corporation has reportedly just fallen through, dealing a major blow to the government's Make in India mission.

    According to sources cited by The Times of India, this decision was taken by Union Minister for Defence Nirmala Sitharaman. "Goa Shipyard has been asked to issue a new global expression of interest for the mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs). The fresh RFP (request for proposal) or tender will follow thereafter," quoted the daily. With this, the Indian Navy's nearly decade-old quest for new minesweepers, desperately needed to beef up security along its long coastline, has been pushed back even further.

    The world's fifth largest navy reportedly has only four minesweepers in active service-all acquired from the erstwhile Soviet Union between 1978 and 1988-to defend its 14 ports. The Navy needs six-times that number to plug the shortfall.

    Worse yet, the defence ministry last year revealed to a parliamentary panel that all the MCMVs currently operational will be retired by 2018-2020. So the government does not have the luxury of time to float the fresh tender for minesweepers, whose role is to clear sea mines laid by enemy warships, submarines and aircrafts to blockade harbours and offshore installations or to disrupt maritime trade.

    Incidentally, this is not the first time that the collaboration between GSL and Kangnam Corp has fallen through. In 2008, the UPA Government had floated a tender for minesweepers that the Busan-based firm had won. Then tom-tomed as India's first major defence hardware import from East Asia, the Rs 2,300 crore deal involved importing two MCMVs and the required technology transfer to indigenously build another six vessels. But the defence ministry had scrapped this deal in 2014 after an inquiry revealed that the South Korean shipyard may have hired middlemen to facilitate the contract.

    The following year GSL bagged the larger Rs 32,000-crore order, again in collaboration with Kangnam Corp. Under the new deal, 12 vessels were to be constructed in India, with 60% indigenous content, and deliveries were to be completed between 2021 and 2026.

    But perhaps the deal was doomed from the start. The already slow-to-take off project then faced a lot of issues ranging from a difference in opinion over the selection of propulsion engines for the vessels to be built to the quantum of technology expertise to be transferred. In the meantime, GSL has already invested over Rs 700 crore in building infrastructure for construction of the MCMVs.

    The ministry of defence will reportedly issue a fresh global expression of interest to Kangnam, Italy's Intermarine Shipyard-which was the second closest bidder in the 2008 tender-and other foreign shipyards that specialize in building MCMVs, with non-magnetic hulls and high-definition sonars, acoustic and magnetic sweeps to detect marooned and drifting mines.

    In the face of China flexing its muscles in the Indian Ocean-one of the most militarised regions of the world with at least 100 warships prowling at any given time-one hopes the Indian Navy gets its minesweepers sooner rather than later.

General Awareness

Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
Medaram’s Jatara

  • Context:

    Central government is likely to declare Medaram’s Sammakka-Sarakka/Saralamma Jatara a national festival this year. Once declared a national festival, Jatara can be considered for ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’ tag of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

    About the Medaram’s Sammakka-Sarakka/Saralamma Jatara:

    What is it? Sammakka-Sarakka Jatara held by forest dwelling Koya tribe of Telangana and surrounding States, is the biggest Tribal festival in Asia which is attended by one crore people on an average.

    Why is it held? The event is held bi-annually to honour the twin goddesses Sammakka and her daughter Sarakka. Several communities in Telangana society support Jatara as it is also a mythical narrative of two tribal women leaders who fought against the Kakatiya rulers who tried to annex their land and forests. According to the myth it was Sammakka’s curse which caused gradual decline and death of Kakatiya rule.

    Facts for Prelims:

    Where is Medaram located? Medaram is a remote place in the Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of Dandakaranya, the largest surviving forest belt in the Deccan.

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