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Current Affairs - 13 January 2018

General Affairs 

ISRO Launches 100th Satellite: All About Cartosat-2, India's Eye Across Border
  • Indian space agency ISRO's rocket today successfully placed into orbit its 100th satellite "Cartosat 2", which will keep an eye across the border.

    The Cartosat 2 satellite was the main payload of ISRO or Indian Space Research Organisation's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle ( PSLV) rocket that lifted off at 9.29 am from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.

    The PSLV, carrying India's 100th satellite along with 30 others, lifted off as scheduled, with a key component that led the previous launch failure working this time.

    "We are extremely happy about the launch. This is a New Year gift to the country," said ISRO chief AS Kiran Kumar.

    The surveillance satellite from the "Cartosat 2" series for earth observation will keep an eye on India's hostile neighbours. Its clone had been used in the 2016 surgical strikes when army commandos went across the Line of Control and targeted terror launching pads in Pakistani territory.

    The 710kg satellite gives India huge surveillance capability, say scientists. Apart from monitoring the borders, it will also help in urban planning of cities.

    The Cartosat is expected to help monitor and boost data services for coasts, road networks, water distribution, and land-use mapping.

    The Cartosat 2 satellite will provide high resolution scene specific spot images. It carries panchromatic and multi-spectral cameras and is capable of delivering high resolution data.

    The PSLV also carried satellites from Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

    ISRO's previous attempt to place Cartosat-2 into orbit in August failed as the PSLV plunged into the Bay of Bengal after lift-off. The heat shield did not separate in the final leg of the launch sequence and as a result, the satellite was stuck in the fourth stage of the rocket.

Doklam Effect: Focus To Shift To China Border, Says General Bipin Rawat
  • The focus of the Indian army will shift to the country's border with China in the north as opposed to the long-standing focus on the western border, Chief of Army staff General Bipin Rawat said on Friday. The country, he said, was capable of handling China's growing assertiveness in the region but also stressed on the need for modernisation of the armed forces.

    "We need modern weapons and technology. We have to look at what we require to fight the future wars. We have to get systems that are best suited for our requirements" General Rawat said at an event in New Delhi. "The focus has to shift to the northern borders. We have focused too long on the western side," the army chief said.

    "We felt they will try to claim the whole Doklam... It was also posing a threat to us as it was changing the status quo," he said, according to a report by news agency IANS. He further added that while Chinese troops have maintained their presence in Doklam, their numbers have thinned and the level of activity has gone down.

    Addressing questions on the increase in border transgressions in recent month, General Rawat said that it was because India had deployed more troops in forward positions along the border. "We will not allow our territory to be invaded by anyone. Troops are earmarked and should a situation arise, our troops are ready to cater" he said in response to a question on Chinese incursions.  "China is a powerful country, but we are not a weak nation either," he said.

    India cannot allow its neighbours to drift away to China, the army chief said, adding that countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have to be kept on board as part of a broader strategy to deal with China.

    General Rawat also addressed the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. "Terrorists are a disposable commodity in Pakistan and the Indian army approach has been to ensure that it feels the pain," he said. Referring to the US action against Pakistan, the army chief said that its impact is yet to be seen.

    General Rawat said that the threat of an attack by Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear or CBRN weapons from 'non-state actors' is a becoming a reality. Speaking at the inauguration of a workshop and exhibition of CBRN defence technologies at the Defence Research and Development Organisation or DRDO headquarters, the army chief said, "Use of CBRN weapons could jeopardize life and property and take a long time to recover".

By April, Niti Aayog To Come Out With Ranking Of 115 Aspirational Districts
  • Government think-tank Niti Aayog will come out with a ranking of 115 aspirational districts by April this year.

    In its presentation at the 'Transformation of Aspirational Districts' conference which was held earlier this month, the Aayog said it will rank the 115 backward districts on 10 parameters which will include nutrition, education, health.

    According to the presentation, which was posted on Niti Aayog's website on Thursday, it will also set up a mechanism for real-time monitoring of government's development programmes by April.

    The government think-tank said it will create a dashboard which will reflect the change in ranking of districts on continuous basis by the end of March this year.

    Last week, while participating at the conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked collectors and officers-incharge of the 115 aspirational districts to come up with pioneering innovations to achieve visible results for development by April 14, the birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar.

    The officials concerned should focus on "low hanging" fruits to show results and create an atmosphere of optimism and positivity, PM Modi had said, adding success stories are needed to change the psyche of people.

    "On April 14, we celebrate the jayanti of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Let us devote these coming three months to pioneering innovation in the less developed districts and transform the lives of the poor," he had said.

    Calling for a concerted effort to achieve visible results in three months, PM Modi had said he would like to personally visit one such well-performing district in April, adding those 115 districts could become "the foundation for developing New India".

    The event was organised keeping in view PM Modi's vision of creating a 'New India' by 2022.

    The centre has embarked upon a major policy initiative for rapid transformation of districts that are lagging on specific development parameters.

    Senior government officials of the rank of additional secretary and joint secretary have been designated as officers in-charge to coordinate the efforts of the Centre and states in addressing the specific developmental needs of these districts.

"Don't Want Wise Men To Say We Sold Our Souls": Top Judge On Going Public Against Chief Justice
  • For the first time in India, four top judges of the Supreme Court addressed the media at noon today. The unprecedented press conference was held at the home of Justice J Chelameswar, the second-most senior judge after the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Dipak Misra, who wasn't present for the briefing. Justice Chelameswar was accompanied by Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurien Joseph.

    Here are top five points raised by the senior judges:

    Justice Chelameswar: It's an extraordinary event in the history of any nation and in the history of this institution. It's not a political meeting. Sometimes the administration of the Supreme Court (SC) is not in order and many things which are less than desirable have happened in the last few months.

    Justice Chelameswar: About a couple of months ago, the four of us gave a signed letter to CJI. We wanted a particular thing to be done in a particular manner. It was done, but in such a way that it raised further questions on integrity of institution. The same thing happened this morning when the four of us went to meet the CJI with a specific request, but unfortunately we couldn't convince him that we are right and appropriate action needs to be taken. Therefore, we are left with no choice except to communicate it to the nation.

    Justice Chelameswar: All our efforts have failed and we are all convinced that unless this institution is preserved, and it maintains its equanimity democracy will not survive in this country. The hallmark of a good democracy is an impartial and independent judiciary.

    Justice Chelameswar: We have heard lot of wise men saying a lot of things in this country. We don't want some very wise men 20 years later blame that Justice Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian Joseph sold their souls and that they take care of the institution and didn't do the right thing.

    Justice Gogoi: We place it before people of country. It is a discharge of a debt to the nation that has brought us here and to tell the nation what is what.

On An Important Front, Nepal Picks China, Ends India's Monopoly
  •  Nepal has joined hands with China to offer internet services to its citizens, officials said on Friday, ending India's decades-long monopoly of the Himalayan nation's cyber connectivity network.

    For years, Nepal depended on Indian telecom companies, such as Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications Ltd, for access to the worldwide web, which Nepali officials said made connections vulnerable to network failures.

    Nepal Telecom and China Telecom Global launched their services after they wrapped up the laying of optical fiber cables between Kerung in China and Rasuwagadi in Nepal, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Kathmandu, the companies said.

    "This will give us an alternative to India for cyber connectivity and ensure uninterrupted connections," Pratibha Vaidya, a Nepal Telecom spokeswoman, told Reuters.

    "Consumers can now look forward to a reliable service."

    More than 60 percent of Nepal's 28 million people had access to the internet last year, up from just 19 percent in 2012.

    Both China and India have been jostling to increase their influence in Nepal, a natural buffer separating them, by ramping up their investments in roads and hydropower projects in the impoverished country.

    In 2016, Beijing agreed to allow Nepal to use its ports to trade goods with third countries, ending Kathmandu's sole dependence on India for overland trade.

    Nepal last year joined the Belt and Road Initiative, which is China's effort to develop a modern "Silk Road" connecting Asia with Europe, Middle East and Africa by road, railway, sea and air.

    As part of the initiative, Nepali officials say they are in talks with Beijing over the extension of the Chinese railway network into Nepal from Tibet.

Business Affairs

Budget 2018: Pharma companies want a push on research, innovation
  • The government needs to seriously re-think on the ways to promote research and innovation in the country, especially within the Indian pharmaceutical industry. This seems to be coming across as a clear message from the various stakeholders in the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

    Perhaps, some of it has to do with the mood within the industry driven by the changing market dynamics in the two most important markets - the US and India, and the fact that most recent budgets have been largely disappointing for the sector.

    Many companies, with some leading players, are already coping with challenges around price erosion in generics, erosion of base business resulting from new competition and buyer consolidation in their biggest global market, the US. They clearly see the writing on the wall: Moving up the value chain in terms of developing niche, hard to replicate products, is the only way out and are gearing up for that, with some already moving ahead in this journey.

    This is one reason why most that Business Today spoke to were unanimous in picking research and innovation as the top item on the list of priorities for the sector. But then, given that research spending in the pharmaceutical industry is a risky proposition, specially in areas of drug discovery and innovation, fiscal incentives could provide the necessary fillip.

    For instance, it is very likely that even after spending 10 years investing in research, the product may finally not get a regulatory approval. "If you want to promote innovation then incentivize investments into research and innovation. This could be done either by government offering a matching grant to a private enterprise or by extending a tax credit," says D G Shah, secretary-general at the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, that has leading Indian pharma companies as its members.

    He feels the tax credit could be spread over a period of two to three years also. This backed by some procedural simplications, say around ease in filing of patents, could go a long way in encouraging research, he feels hoping the Union Budget would address this issue.

    In fact, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and managing director, Biocon, goes a step further and says, if India needs to move the needle with respect to its goals around Making in India and carving out a niche for itself globally, it needs to support research and innovation.

    "India needs to spend at 2 to 3 per cent of GDP on science and research as against the 0.69 per cent at present," she says.  

    According to a recent report by the department of science and technology India's gross expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP for the last couple of years has been at around 0.69 per cent.

    But then, if funds are an issue, her suggestion: perhaps the government could look at deploying collections made from the R&D cess. There are enough media reports on the over Rs 7,000 crore that have have been collected by way of R&D cess.

    This is crucial, she feels and points to a recent report by the European Commission which says that if you increase R&D investment by 10 per cent in public research institutions, it grows the GDP by 1 per cent. This coupled with focus on meritocracy, could go a long way in the Indian context, she feels.

    Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and others in the pharma industry, while not in favour of the government move towards gradually doing away with the weighted deduction on R&D for the private sector, want its scope expanded to all areas connected with R&D.

    This is despite the government's roadmap that seems to favour a move towards a system where there is a reduced corporate tax rate with all the deductions eliminated, apparently to make it all simple.

    "The budget should ensure that the weighted deduction on R&D is brought back (from 150 per cent) to 200 per cent and its scope expanded to cover various nuances of R&D such as inhouse intangible asset development, expenditure on R&D facility, clinical trials by CROs (contract research organizations)," says Kedar Upadhye, Global Chief Financial Officer at Cipla, a global major pharma player with significant presence in the Indian market.

    That apart, there is also expectation that perhaps the budget would look at clearing some of the issues around GST payment , especially in cases where medicines cannot be sold , either on account of being damaged or for crossing their expiry date.

Bitcoin mania? Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio planning cryptocurrency 'JioCoin': report
  • Weeks after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley informed the Parliament that cryptocurrency was not a legal tender in India, it has been reported that Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio is planning to launch its own virtual currency- JioCoin.

    According to a report in Mint, Reliance plans to hire 50 young professionals to work on blockchain technology. Blockchain technology is a decentralised digital ledger in which transactions made in cryptocurrencies are recorded chronologically and publicly.

    "There are multiple applications of blockchain (for the company). The team would work on various blockchain products," the report quoted a source as saying.

    While the JioCoin plan is still in initial stage, the official did tell the business daily as to how Reliance Jio could use the new technology. He said: "It can be used in supply chain management logistics. Loyalty points could altogether be based on JioCoin." The company's new venture will be headed by Mukesh Ambani's son Akash Ambani.

    The report comes barely a fortnight after the Finance Ministry and the RBI clearly stated that the creation, trading or usage of virtual currencies as a medium for payment were not authorised by the central bank or monetary authority.

    Finance Ministry Arun Jaitley underlined that the virtual currencies including Bitcoin don't have any intrinsic value and are not backed by any kind of assets.

    He said that cryptocurrencies were not legal tender and those indulging in such transactions were doing it at their own risk. Recently, the Income Tax conducted a survey on nine major cryptocurrency exchanges to investigate instances of tax evasion. The Tax authority has reportedly found that there are 6 lakh active cryptocurrency traders in the country.

    Last month, the Reserve Bank issued its third warning, reminding the investors of its earlier concerns. In its earlier warnings, the RBI had said that it has not given any licence or authorisation to any entities to operate such schemes or deal with bitcoin or any virtual currency. The government has already constituted a panel under Economic Affairs secretary to deliberate over all issues related to cryptocurrencies and propose specific actions that need to be taken.

    Presently, there are over 1300 virtual currencies in operation worldwide. India has identified 11 exchanges dealing with virtual currencies.

    Here's why the RBI and government think that cryptocurrency could pose risks to investors:

    The RBI says that virtual currency being in digital form are stored in digital-electronic media that are called electronic wallets. Therefore, they are prone to losses arising out of hacking, loss of password, compromise of access credentials, malware attack etc. Since they are not created by or traded through any authorised central registry or agency, the loss of the e-wallet could result in the permanent loss of the VCs held in them.

    Payments by virtual currency take place on a peer-to-peer basis without an authorised central agency which regulates such payments. As such, there is no established framework for recourse to customer problems/disputes/charge backs.

    There is no underlying or backing of any asset for virtual currency. As such, their value seems to be a matter of speculation. Huge volatility in the value of such currency -in this case bitcoin-has been noticed in the recent past. Thus, the users are exposed to potential losses on account of such volatility in value.

    So far, cryptocurrencies are being traded on exchange platforms set up in various jurisdictions whose legal status is also unclear. Hence, the traders of virtual currency on such platforms are exposed to legal as well as financial risks.

    It has been reported that usage of digital currencies are largely for illicit and illegal activities. The absence of information of counter-parties in such peer-to-peer anonymous/ pseudonymous systems could subject the users to unintentional breaches of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism laws.

NCLT approves Idea's request for merger with Vodafone
  • The National Company Law Tribunal has approved the proposed merger between Idea Cellular and Vodafone -- a move that brings both the companies closer to culminating the deal.

    "We wish to inform you that the Hon'ble National Company Law Tribunal, bench at Ahmedabad, vide its order dated January 11, 2018 has sanctioned the composite scheme of amalgamation and arrangement among Vodafone Mobile Services Limited and Vodafone India Limited and Idea Cellular Limited...," Idea Cellular said in a regulatory note today.

    Both the groups can go ahead for the final approval for merger from the Department of Telecom after Vodafone's appeal for the scheme also gets NCLT nod.

    As per latest data published by sector regulator TRAI, Idea and Vodafone jointly have over 40 crore mobile subscribers and together account for largest share in the Indian telecom segment.

    Vodafone is expected to hold around 47.5 per cent stake in the merged entity and rest will be owned by Idea and promoter Aditya Birla Group.

    The proposed merger of Vodafone India and Idea will create an entity with a revenue of around Rs 77,500-80,000 crore besides eliminating duplication of spectrum and infrastructure capex, as per India Ratings and Research.

    Further, the spectrum of Vodafone India in seven circles and that of Idea in two, whose permits are expiring in 2021- 22, is together valued at around Rs 12,000 crore as per last auction price. These permits are not in common circles, and hence there could be potential spectrum capex synergies between the two companies, as per the rating agency.

Sensex, Nifty close with marginal gains: ICICI Bank, Maruti Suzuki, ONGC top gainers
  • Markets were volatile throughout the day and gained marginally after investors turned cautious ahead of consumer inflation and IIP data. The data is scheduled to be released later in the day. Upcoming Infosys Q3 numbers also added to the volatility. Sensex and nifty closed at 34,592.39 and 10,681.25 respectively. The sentiments were further dented after SC judges expressed concerns on the administration of the top court.

    Realty, telecom, IT, FMCG and healthcare stocks remained under pressure whereas substantial buying was visible in oil and gas, and energy sector stocks. Out of the 19 BSE sectoral indices, 11 indices advanced and 8 indices declined.

    Among the A category stocks of BSE, the major gainers were Den Networks ( 19.99%), RattanIndia Power (17.47%) and Gujarat Pipav Port (9.81%). Out of 3,070 shares that were traded on BSE today, 1,354 gained, 1,561 declined whereas 155 remains unchanged. FPIs sold equities worth Rs 391.66 crores on Thursday.

    ICICI Bank (2.63%), Maruti Suzuki (1.27%) and ONGC (1.26%) were the biggest sensex gainers. Mid cap index declined whereas small cap closed flat. Nearly 62% of the constituents of BSE Small cap index declined in today's trade. In BSE midcap index, over 67% of the constituent stocks declined in today's trade. Karnataka Bank has reported total income and net profit growth of 4.7% and 27.5% respectively in Q3FY18. Its percentage of gross NPAs improved to 3.97% in Q3FY18 compared to 4.3% in Q3FY17.

    Among the global peers, US markets closed at record highs amid hopes of strong corporate earnings and rising oil prices. Asian stocks rose led by Taiwan's Taiex and HongKong's HangSeng index. Australian stocks gained helped by mining stocks.

BT Podcast: TCS hiring drops, Whatsapp chats, Danone closes dairy business
  • PwC to fight SEBI audit ban to limit franchise impact
    Price Waterhouse will contest a two-year auditing ban by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) over a fraud nearly a decade ago at a company it audited, but even if it succeeds in preventing the move Indian business experts expect damage to the auditor's business. It faces the prospect of a multi-crore revenue hit with rising employee and client attrition

    Danone to close down dairy business in India
    French dairy company Danone SA will be closing down its dairy business in India. This comes after three failed attempts to make an impact in one of the world's fastest growing consumer packaged goods markets. With Danone's decision to close down its dairy unit, the company's factory at Rai, Sonipat, near Delhi will also stop production. Dairy remained a small business accounting for around 10% of the company's revenue in India. Globally, dairy is the largest business for Danone.

    Reliance Jio plans its own cryptocurrency JioCoin
    According to a report by business daily Mint, Reliance Jio, known for its free offers and hyper-competitive tariffs, plans to create its own cyptocurrency, JioCoin. Mukesh Ambani's elder son Akash Ambani will be spearheading the JioCoin project. The company plans to build a 50-member team of young professionals to work on blockchain technology, which can also be used to develop applications such as smart contracts and supply chain management logistics.

    TCS hiring drops
    Once a job-generating company, Tata Consultancy Services is now fast slowing down on that front. Reports suggest the company added just 3,657 employees in the first nine months of this fiscal on a net basis, an 85% drop from the same period a year earlier, when it added 24,654 employees. India's biggest software exporter saw its net profit fall 3.6 per cent year-on-year to Rs 6,531 crore in the quarter that ended on December 31, 2017

    Will Reliance Jio report its first-ever quarterly profit this month?
    Back in April 2017, Morgan Stanley had predicted that Reliance Jio could become profitable by 2020. About six months later, Reliance Industries announced that its telecoms arm would turn profitable at the net level "very shortly", while announcing a pre-tax profit of Rs 260 crore for the business-it's first ever operating profit and the first time earnings were disclosed-for the quarter ended September 2017. The good times have reportedly arrived.Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJio) may report its first-ever quarterly profit this month when it announces its December quarter results, sources in the know told Bloomberg

    Nissan To start Leaf Electric car pilot run in India this year
    Nissan will commence with their test runs for the new Nissan Leaf in India by end of this year with a possible launch sometime next year. According to reports, Nissan will initially commence with the dry test runs for the new generation Leaf while seeking incentives from the government to promote sales of the car. While it will come through the CBU route, Nissan hopes that they could localize the product at a later stage.

    Your Whatsapp group chat might be unsafe
    According to new research from one team of German cryptographers, flaws in WhatsApp make infiltrating the app's group chats much easier than they should be possible. The group discovered flaws in security protocol of group of three popular instant messaging apps with WhatsApp standing out considering it has 1 billion plus user base, according to a report on Wired. Researchers pointed out a bug in WhatsApp's system of authentication. They have pointed out that "WhatsApp doesn't use any authentication mechanism" when a new member is added to the group and this is something its own servers can spoof as well. Whatsapp has responded saying, "We've looked at this issue carefully...Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group. We built WhatsApp so group messages cannot be sent to a hidden user."

General Awareness

e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential.
SFOORTI Application

  • What is it? To help plan the traffic flows and optimize freight operations, Ministry of Railways have launched Smart Freight Operation Optimisation & Real Time Information (SFOORTI) App for Freight Managers which provides features for monitoring and managing freight business using Geographic Information System (GIS) Views and Dashboard.

    Salient features of SFOORTI Application are as below:

    With this application, movement of freight trains on Geographic Information System (GIS) view can be tracked.
    Both passenger and freight trains can be tracked over Zones/Divisions/ Sections in single GIS View.
    Freight business can be monitored.
    Comparative Analysis of Zonal/Divisional Traffic.
    Analysis of new traffic captured and traffic lost.
    This app provides a Bird’s eye view of all Freight Assets in a single window.
    Provides end to end Rake movement on Geospatial view
    Expected Traffic at Interchange points to evaluate daily performance can be viewed.

    Performance of each zone and divisions with respect to loading and utilization of freight assets can be viewed.
    Sectional performance monitoring for sections, divisions and zones shall help in traffic routing.
    Freight terminal and sidings can be better monitored to ensure better turnaround of rakes.

    Importance of Freight traffic:

    Freight traffic is the major source of revenue for Indian Railways. Only one-third of the 13000 trains running daily on IR are freight trains, but it accounts 65% of total revenue of IR. Railway Freight traffic is vital for economic and industrial progress of the country.

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