Current Affairs Current Affairs - 20 February 2018 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 20 February 2018

General Affairs 

Tripura Records Over 92% Voter Turnout In Assembly Polls
  • Over 92 per cent of Tripura's 2,536,589 voters cast their votes in Sunday's peaceful elections in 59 of the 60 Assembly seats, setting a new record in the electoral history of India, an official said here on Monday.

    In the 2013 and 2008 assembly polls, Tripura registered 92 per cent and 91 per cent voting respectively.

    "The final vote tally is around 90 per cent (89.8) but taking into account the postal ballots, the total percentage is a little over 92 per cent," an Election Department official said.

    He said around 50,000 polling and security personnel on election duty cast their votes through postal ballot.

    The official said a huge number of voters were still queued up at 10 p.m. on Sunday at around 100 of the 3,174 polling stations set up across the state.

    "At the Malay Sardar Para polling station in Kalyanpur constituency in western Tripura's Khowai district, people cast their ballots till 12.45 a.m.," the official added.

    He said had scores of VVPATs (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails) and EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) not faced technical hitches, the polling percentage would have been more.

    Chief Electoral Officer Sriram Taranikanti late Sunday night said that 191 (6 per cent) VVPATs and 89 (5 per cent) EVMs malfunctioned across the state.

    Ruling Left Front convenor Bijan Dhar said EVMs faced technical glitches in around 520 polling stations and demanded a probe.

    "The Election Commission put up specially modified EVMs attached with VVPATs at all 3,174 polling stations. We replaced or rectified faulty EVMs-VVPATs and voting resumed in those polling stations afterwards," the Election Department official added.

    A total of 292 candidates, including 23 women and many independents, are in the fray. Counting of votes will take place on March 3.

    Balloting was held in 59 of the 60 Assembly constituencies. Polling was deferred to March 12 in Charilam (Reserved-Tribal) seat due to the death of sitting MLA and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidate Ramendra Narayan Debbarma.

Australia, US, India And Japan In Talks To Establish Belt And Road Alternative: Report
  • Australia, the United States, India and Japan are talking about establishing a joint regional infrastructure scheme as an alternative to China's multi billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing's spreading influence, the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday, citing a senior US official.

    The unnamed official was quoted as saying the plan involving the four regional partners was still "nascent" and "won't be ripe enough to be announced' during Australian Prime Minister Turnbull's visit to the United States later this week.

    The official said, however, that the project was on the agenda for Turnbull's talks with US President Donald Trump during that trip and was being seriously discussed. The source added that the preferred terminology was to call the plan an "alternative" to China's Belt and Road Initiative, rather than a "rival."

    "No one is saying China should not build infrastructure," the official was quoted as saying. "China might build a port which, on its own is not economically viable. We could make it economically viable by building a road or rail line linking that port."

    Representatives for Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, asked at a news conference about the report of four-way cooperation, said Japan, the United States, Australia, and Japan, Australia and India regularly exchanged views on issues of common interest.

    "It is not the case that this is to counter China's Belt and Road," he said.

    Japan, meanwhile, plans to use its official development assistance (ODA) to promote a broader "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" including "high-quality infrastructure", according to a summary draft of its 2017 white paper on ODA. The Indo-Pacific strategy has been endorsed by Washington and is also seen as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative.

    First mentioned during a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping's to university students in Kazakhstan in 2013, China's Belt and Road plan is a vehicle for the Asian country to take a greater role on the international stage by funding and building global transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.

    Xi has heavily promoted the initiative, inviting world leaders to Beijing last May for an inaugural summit at which he pledged $124 billion in funding for the plan, and enshrining it into the ruling Communist Party's constitution in October.

    Local Chinese governments as well as state and private firms have rushed to offer support by investing overseas and making loans.

    In January, Beijing outlined its ambitions to extend the initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming, forming a "Polar Silk Road".

    The United States, Japan, India and Australia have recently revived four-way talks to deepen security cooperation and coordinate alternatives for regional infrastructure financing to that offered by China.

    The so-called Quad to discuss and cooperate on security first met as an initiative a decade ago - much to the annoyance of China, which saw it as an attempt by regional democracies to contain its advances. The quartet held talks in Manila on the sidelines of the November ASEAN and East Asia Summits.

Pune To Mumbai In 25 Minutes. Richard Branson Unveils Hyperloop Plan
  • British tycoon Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One is proposing to build a super-fast transportation system in India that would connect the city of Pune with the planned new airport in Mumbai in 25 minutes, saving about three hours.

    The founder of Virgin Group signed a preliminary agreement on Sunday in Mumbai for a broad hyperloop framework, the company said in a statement. A demonstration track will be built in two to three years from the signing of the final agreement, while the second phase will aim to complete construction of the full Pune-Mumbai route in five to seven years.

    Branson is touting the tube-based transportation system -- first theorized in 2013 by billionaire Elon Musk -- to help address the infrastructure bottlenecks India is struggling with amid rapid urbanization. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is plowing about 8.6 trillion rupees ($133 billion) to upgrade the nation's rail networks and last year kicked off a plan to build a 316-mile bullet train line linking the commercial hubs of Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

    The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop project could result in $55 billion in socio-economic benefits over 30 years of operation, according to an initial study by Virgin Hyperloop One.

    "I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact upon India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century," Branson said. "The Pune-Mumbai route is an ideal first corridor as part of a national hyperloop network."

    Virgin Hyperloop One, which has been testing in Nevada with speeds reaching 240 miles an hour, is working to meet a goal of having three production systems in service by 2021, according to its website. The startup is working on technology that would use magnetic levitation in low-pressure tubes to transport people and goods at airplane-like speeds.

Robots To Clean Up Manholes In Kerala From Next Week
  • In a first in Kerala, the state government will soon be utilising the services of Robots to clean sewer holes.

    The trial runs of the robot, developed by a startup company, Genrobotics, have been successfully held recently and the product will be launched next week, Kerala Water Authority (KWA) Managing Director, A Shainamol said.

    "The Kerala government is very excited with the project," A Shainamol told PTI.

    The robot, equipped with Wi-Fi, Blue Tooth and control panels has four limbs and a bucket system attached to a spider web looking extension to scoop out the waste from sewers.

    The project is supported by KWA, which has joined hands with Kerala start up mission to transform new ideas into practical technologies for addressing issues relating to pipe leakage and sanitation.

    "Our intention is to promote local talent. Now the product, being fully funded by the government, is ready and it will be launched next week," she said.

    Initially, the services of the robot, christened 'Bandicoot' will be utilised in Thiruvananthapuram, which has over 5,000 manholes.

    The trial run of the robot, developed by the nine-member group of youngsters from varying engineering streams, had been conducted successfully in the state capital recently, CEO and Chief Product architect of Genrobotics, Vimal Govind said.

    The youngsters have given up their steady jobs to find a solution to end manual scavenging in an effort to bring in some resemblance of dignity to the lives of these 'invisible' men who are paid a pittance between Rs. 300-500 for their effort running into several hours.

    According to Govind during the trials held near the Medical college here, about 30 kg of garbage was pulled out by the robot and they were shocked to find sanitary napkins, clothes, surgical blades among other stuff in the clogged manholes.

    Within an hour, the robot could clean four manholes on the first day itself with ease and it did not face any problem to manoeuvre its way to different types of manholes.

    "This will be a life changing opportunity for the cleaning men.. their life will become better.. Though happy with the product, they are apprehensive if they will lose their source of livelihood," he said.

    However, there was no cause for any worry says Chief Operating Officer Rashid K as their plan was to train existing workers to operate the robot, which was as easy to handle as a remote controlled toy car.

    All the commands in the user interface was now in English.

    But this can be converted to any local language for easy understanding of the scavengers, he said.

    The team took 7-8 months to design the semi automatic robot.

    An MOU has already been signed between the Kerala Water Innovation Zone under the KWA and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) for transfer of technology.

    'Attukal Pongala' on March 2 will be the litmus test for the 'Bandicoot' which will commence its operations by cleaning sewer holes in the city during the festival when lakhs of women from all over the country will converge here to offer Pongala to the diety.

    Enquiries relating to the Robot have come in from neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra besides from countries like Canada and UK.

    The team has also been invited to attend the National consultative workshop on Solid Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) on Feb 22, 23 at Delhi, which is a initiative of Swachh Bharat to introduce the Robot.

    Founded in 2015, GenRobotics was initially focusing on powered exoskeletons which are robotic suits that can help humans to reduce physical effort needed in heavy jobs.

    The robot is powered by pneumatics (using gas or pressurised air) since using heavy electronic equipment inside is risky as they can react with the explosive gases present in the manhole.

    Since there are no official figures on the number of people involved in manual scavenging in Kerala, the state government is planning to undertake a pilot study at Ernakulam or Kozhikode to ascertain the same, Suchitwa mission sources said.

BJP Wins 47 Municipalities In Gujarat, Down From 59; Congress Gets 16
  • Gujarat's ruling BJP won the most seats in municipal elections today, but has lost ground compared to the last elections five years ago. The party has won 47 of 75 municipalities for which elections were held; it had won 59 in 2013.

    Chief rival Congress has won 16 municipalities, five more than the 11 it had won last time. It had lost five of them two years later, when its leaders defected to the BJP, and is claiming today's result as a major gain. The party claimed that it also supported four Independents who have won and so its tally today is 20.

    Six municipalities did not give a clear mandate to either party and the Congress has asserted that it will gather the support needed to form the municipal board in each of them.

    The BJP's loss of 12 municipalities comes just two months after the party posted its weakest performance in years in assembly elections held in December last. The party won a fifth straight term in power in Gujarat, but not before a scare as the Congress seemed to catch up several times when votes were being counted, eventually reducing the BJP's margin of victory considerably.

    The BJP won 99 of Gujarat's 182 assembly seats, down from 115 in the last elections and only seven more than the majority mark of 92. At least 15 BJP candidates won by a margin of less than 500 votes. The Congress won 77 along with allies, up from 60 seats.

    Though it has lost several civic bodies today in urban areas, its stronghold even in the December assembly elections, the BJP will draw consolation from still being way ahead of the Congress in municipalities, which it has dominated since the early 1990s.

    In some cheer for the party, it has won 27 of 28 seats in the municipality in Vadnagar, the hometown of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the Congress being able to win only one seat. The BJP had lost the Vadnagar seat in the assembly elections.

Business Affairs

Reliance To Launch 4th Industrial Revolution In Maharashtra With An Investment Of Rs. 60,000 Crore
  •  In a bonanza for Maharashtra, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani on Sunday announced plans to launch the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' in the state with an investment of Rs. 60,000 crore and collaboration of over 20 global conglomerates.

    He said that the initiative will take forward the flagship Jio Movement with the ambitious new plan for a New India and New Maharashtra by setting up the country's first-ever 'Integrated Industrial Development Area' in the state over the next 10 years.

    "The company will make Maharashtra the birthplace and cradle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in India, which is a convergence of disruptive technologies in the physical, digital and biological spheres. It is going to transform the world and our society in unimaginable ways," Ambani said in his address at the 'Magnetic Maharashtra: Convergence 2018' inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    The company will invest more than Rs. 60,000 crores along with a coalition of global companies over the next 10 years in this collaborative initiative, he said.

    Some of the global companies who have already agreed to co-invest with Reliance include: CISCO, Siemens, Corning, HP, Dell, Nokia and Nvidia, he said, assuring Modi that "this mega-project will make Maharashtra even more magnetic".

    Ambani said there is a global race to harness Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Blockchain, Internet of Things, Next-Generation Virtual and Augmented Reality, Life Sciences, New Materials and New Sources of Energy and other futuristic technologies.

    "India cannot afford to lag behind in this race and indeed has an opportunity to be a global leader," he said.

    The Fourth Industrial Revolution will help Maharashtra and India solve the most difficult problems in socio-economic development in health-care and education, water security and environmental security, boosting agriculture production, in making all our towns, cities and villages SMART, and generate millions of new employment opportunities for youth of the state and in India.

    Ambani described Mumbai as the 'janmabhoomi' (birthplace) of Reliance and his own 'karmabhoomi' (workplace) where the start-up company was established by his father, the late visionary Dhirubhai Ambani with a seed capital of just Rs. 1,000 and one employee.

    "Today, Reliance employs over 350,000 people... it's the largest 'wealth-creator for India'. Reliance always invests in India's Big Dreams in building businesses of the future with Indian talent and Indian youth," he said.

    He said Mumbai is also home to Jio, the newest tech-startup in the Reliance family, and when the Prime Minister unveiled his vision for a Digital India, it also became Jio's own mission.

    "Before Jio's launch, India was 155th in the world in mobile broadband consumption. Today India is No. 1. Over 170 million Indians enjoy the highest quality date services at the lowest prices in the world," he said.

    So far, the company has invested Rs. 250,000 crore in India, of which the highest share - Rs. 22,000 crore - came to Maharashtra, and within two years, Jio will connect every village panchayat, every school, college and hospital in the state to bring the benefits of digital revolution to the last person in society, he said.

Nasscom's Skill Development Platform To Benefit 20 Lakh Techies
  • Besides artificial intelligence, FutureSkills will also focus on new age technologies such as Virtual Reality, Robotic Process Automation, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics, 3D Printing, Cloud Computing, Social and Mobile.

    While Digital India is working on steps to increase domestic electronic production and BPO promotion schemes for employment, this platform will make talent available for India and the tech industry to embrace opportunities from emerging technologies, said Nasscom.

    NASSCOM has conducted a comprehensive study with the Boston Consulting Group to identify 8 technologies, poised to grow tremendously, both nationally and globally, in the coming decade, along with associated 55 job roles and corresponding skills required for those technologies.

    The FutureSkills platform will enable discovery, continuous learning and a marketplace of best-in-class training providers/virtual labs and certifications for each of these job roles and skills, with customised pathways for learning.
    PM Modi applauded the initiative and its focus on creating skills for future jobs in the country.

    NASSCOM signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to collaboratively foster, cultivate and strengthen reskilling initiatives.

    As a part of the MoU, NASSCOM and MeitY will work together to enable skill development and continuous learning not only for individuals in the IT-ITeS industry and its aspirants but also for employees belonging to other sectors.

    Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law & Justice and Electronics and IT, Govt. of India said, “Digital empowerment can only happen if there is digital inclusion. With the advent of new technologies like AI, Blockchain and IoT, reskilling of young professionals is critical. I’m pleased that NASSCOM has come up with this unique platform for skilling and reskilling young people where my department and team will provide lot of support and assistance. It is all about teamwork where government and private sector leaders and organisations like NASSCOM need to come together and contribute towards digital inclusion.”

    R. Chandrashekhar, President, NASSCOM said, “FutureSkills platform will not only help re-engineer education and but also create employment prospects.”

    NASSCOM is the premier trade body and the chamber of commerce of the IT-BPM industry in India. NASSCOM is a global trade body with more than 2,100 members, which include both Indian and multinational companies that have a presence in India.

Impact Of GST On Restaurant Industry Largely Positive, Says Survey
  • The restaurant industry in Mumbai and Bengaluru feels the impact of Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been largely positive, but lack of clarity on regulations remains a major hurdle, according to a survey. More than 70 per cent of the restaurant owners in the two cities believed GST is a positive decision for the industry, while 68 per cent businesses felt it will ease compliance since it is backed by technology, said the survey by Grant Thornton India, a leading assurance, tax and advisory firm.

    High rentals and difficulty in retaining experienced staff are key challenges faced by the restaurant industry in Mumbai and Bengaluru, said the survey titled 'Bon Appetit Emerging trends, opportunities and challenges in Indian restaurant industry'.

    Lack of clarity on regulations has also been mentioned as an area of concern, it added.

    The Grant Thornton's Bon Appetit survey was based on findings from 35 (Mumbai) and 29 (Bengaluru) owners and Key Managerial Personnel (KMPs).

    Like GST, demonetisation has also affected the restaurant industry, the survey revealed.

    The impact of demonetisation appeared to have been more in Bengaluru, where only one-third of the respondents said there is no impact, compared to Mumbai, where it was 60 per cent, it said.

    This is also as cash is still a predominant mode of payment and accounts for 20-30 per cent of receipts in a restaurant, it said.

    M-wallets have just started picking up and account for 4-5 per cent of the collections, it added.

    "The Indian restaurant industry has evolved and grown significantly over the past two decades and continues to grow at a steady pace.

    "This can be attributed to the changing demographics, increase in disposable incomes, urbanisation and growth of organised retail. The market is highly segmented on account of varying income levels and age bracket of the population," said Grant Thornton India LLP Partner Dhanraj Bhagat.

    The survey revealed that quality of food emerged as the key driver for growth of restaurants, followed by location and pricing.

    For Mumbai respondents, having organic food is more important than concerns related to pricing and cuisine preference, while affordability was highlighted as the key emerging trend in consumer preferences in Bengaluru.

    Meanwhile, the respondents said pan-India or regional expansion was the primary strategy for growth.

    In Mumbai, respondents said global expansion and cuisine addition are two other crucial strategies for increasing footprint.

    When it comes to funding these expansions, Mumbai respondents preferred private equity firms, whereas Bengaluru saw bank loans as the primary source, the survey added.

Sensex Slumps 236 Points As Markets Reel Under PNB Fallout
  • Stock markets declined for a second straight session today as state-run lenders fell further amid continued worries about the fallout from over Rs. 11,000 crore fraud reported by Punjab National Bank last week. PNB shares fell 7 after investigators detained on Saturday two bank employees suspected of steering the fraudulent loans and sealed on Monday the lender's Mumbai branch at the heart of the case.Meanwhile, worries about the impact from guarantees to PNB loans hit other lenders.

    Reuters had reported on Saturday that Indian banks could take a hit of more than $3 billion from loans and corporate guarantees provided to diamond companies, according to a tax department note.

    "It could continue to impact for some more time. The issue of its impact on the entire PSU banking system will keep markets edgy," said Siddhartha Khemka, head of retail research, Motilal Oswal Securities.

    The Sensex ended 236 points lower at 33,774 while Nifty fell 74 points to 10,378.

    The Nifty PSU bank index dropped 2.5 per cent.

    UCO Bank slumped 5 per cent after the state-run lender said it had $411.82 million in exposure to fraudulent transactions carried out at PNB.

    The Nifty IT index dropped as much as 0.9 percent on profit-taking, after having gained over 6 percent this year as of Friday's close.

    Shares of air carriers rose after the aviation regulator said passengers carried by domestic airlines rose nearly 20 percent to 11.5 million in January.

    Bhushan Steel Ltd surged by its daily limit of 19.9 per cent after reports said Tata Steel Ltd emerged as the front runner to buy the debt-laden firm. Tata Steel shares tumbled 6 per cent.

PNB-Nirav Modi Fraud: What Had Transpired At Mumbai's Brady Road Branch
  • There is a provision of bank guarantee known as a letter of undertaking (LOU) under which a bank can allow its customer to raise money from another Indian bank's foreign branch in the form of a short term credit. The LOU serves the purpose of a bank guarantee.

     However, to be able to raise the LOU, the customer is supposed to pay margin money to the bank issuing the LOU and accordingly, he is granted a credit limit. But in Nirav Modi's case, neither was there a credit limit, nor did he ever give any margin money, reported Reuters.

    Nirav Modi, via his three firms, Diamond R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds, managed to pay to its suppliers of rough stones on a regular basis. The payment was made through the loans by banks including Axis Bank, UCO Bank (Rs. 2,636 crore) and Allahabad Bank (around Rs. 2,000 crore). The loans were raised by Nirav Modi's firms on showing the letters of undertakings issued by the PNB.

    Incidentally, there was no official record of such letters of undertaking in the PNB records as the bank discovered early this year before reporting the matter to the CBI.

    Ideally, Nirav Modi and his firms are supposed to repay the loans but so far, all these loans have allegedly been rolled over for want of funds. In the scenario when the borrower fails to make the repayment, the bank issuing the LOU (PNB in this case) is duty-bound to honour the commitments on the behalf of its customers.

    So in effect, Indian bank's foreign branches make payment to Nirav Modi's suppliers in the form of loans to Modi. As guarantee, the firms show the letters of undertaking issued by the PNB's Brady Road branch in Mumbai.

    In January, the fraud was unearthed when Modi's firm requested further LOUs for paying the overseas suppliers. On this, the bank officials refused on the ground that Modi's firm need to keep 100% collateral for the same. The Modi's firm argued that no such money was kept 'on margin' in the past either. Following which, the bank officials scanned the records only to discover that there was no trace of any such transaction. This implies that the guarantees/ undertakings were issued by bypassing the rules in collusion with some PNB employees.

    The violation of banking rules as mentioned in the point 8 above was too glaring a blunder to ignore. Hence, Punjab National Bank filed a criminal complaint with the CBI on January 29 accusing Nirav Modi and others of defrauding the bank and causing it a loss of Rs. 280 crore ($43.8 million). The complaint was filed against three companies and four people, including Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, managing director of Gitanjali Gems.

    "We will get back to normalcy within six months. Bank has the size and capacity to come out of the problem," Sunil Mehta, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Punjab National Bank. told a investors' conference call on Friday. The bank was going through some problems but "we will fix it," he added.

    The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), meanwhile, said on Friday it has undertaken a supervisory assessment of control systems at Punjab National Bank and will take "appropriate supervisory action".

General Awareness

Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
‘Watan ko Jano’

  • Context: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had recently organized the programme “Watan Ko Jano”.

    About Watan Ko Jano:

    What? “Watan Ko Jano” is sponsored jointly by Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (Kashmir Cell) and State Rehabilitation Council Social Welfare Department. The programme aims to give exposure to the youth and children of Jammu and Kashmir about the cultural and socio-economic development taking place in other parts of the country.

    Who? Youth and children hit by militancy and from weaker sections of the society have been identified for the purpose.

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