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Current Affairs - 22 February 2018

General Affairs 

Nagaland elections: PM Modi in North East for last leg of election campaign
  • More than three years after his last visit to Nagaland where he had inaugurated the Hornbill Festival in Kohima on December 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Nagaland to escalate election campaigns in Nagaland on Thursday.

    The Prime Minister will address a rally in Nagaland's Tuensang, a town bordering with Myanmar, which is also the headquarters of Eastern Nagaland on February 22, 2018.

    PM Narendra Modi will arrive in Tuensang at around 11:00 AM and is likely to leave around 12:15 PM. He is expected to go all out on his development agenda for Nagaland.

     BJP has fielded twenty candidates in this election and out of which, eight are from Eastern Nagaland region. BJP has formed an alliance with Neiphiu Rio-led NDPP in Nagaland.

    Angami Naga, Ao Naga and Konyak Naga communities are dominated in this region.

    Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs has been made in-charge of the elections in Nagaland. The differences between Chief Minister TR Zeliang and Neiphiu Rio had led to the formation of a new party besides NPF.

Bengal government to take action against schools imposing 'extreme religious teachings'
  • West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee has announced that the state government would be taking action against schools running without no-objection certificates.

    Speaking against schools imposing "extreme religious teachings", Chatterjee declared a crackdown against those are "training students to wield sticks".

    "We had secretly collected information and found that around 125 schools, mostly situated in North Bengal, have not taken any NoC from us (education department) but are running these schools on their own. We have told them they cannot do so," a PTI report quoted Chatterjee.

    We have identified 125 schools which are running without NOC. Some schools in Bengal are not in the accordance with the syllabus. We have stopped 125 & we are scrutinizing other schools too. Then only we will take any decision: Partha Chatterjee, West Bengal Minister.

    Meanwhile, a report in The Telegraph quoted Chatterjee saying: "If the schools are training students to wield sticks, action will be taken,".

    Chatterjee said at the Assembly on Tuesday that the Mamata Banerjee government is monitoring schools to make sure they are adhering to state government norms, and will "not allow extreme religious teachings in schools,".

    These 125 schools, which are said to be affiliated to RSS, were issued notices to earlier last year. Some of these school bodies retaliated by going to court.

    Chatterjee stressed that 125 out of 493 schools were summoned because they "did not acquire NOC from the state government to run their institutions,".

    "I do not know whether these schools are affiliated to RSS or not. I only know that despite not obtaining NOC, these schools are functioning. We have asked them to shut down such institutions," he said.

    RSS spokesperson Jisnu Basu has raised questions over the state government's motive, suggesting that this step was not taken with just education in mind.

    BJP leader Rahul Sinha, meanwhile, has claimed that it is the state government and such decisions of theirs that creates 'more divides than the opposition parties in the state'.

    Chatterjee clarified that Madrasas are "not under his jurisdiction".

    "Some [of them] have also been taken into examination for recognition. I do not know the exact position. School will run according to the syllabus. They should not follow any kind of religion," said Chatterjee.

Kamal Haasan launches Makkal Needhi Maiam in Madurai, Arvind Kejriwal attends
  • My party's name is Makkal Needhi Maiam (People's Justice Front)." And that's how Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan announced the formal launch of his new political outfit at a mega ceremony in Tamil Nadu's Madurai town.

    Accompanying the 63-year-old actor on the stage was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The Aam Aadmi Party's Tamil Nadu incharge Somnath Bharti was also present.

    Also read: Why Kamal Haasan was always destined to enter politics

    "The newly founded MAKKAL NEEDHI MAIAM is your party. Its here to stay, and to make the change we all aspire for. Guide us to serve you," Haasan tweeted, along with an image of his new party's flag - six hands joined together - three in red, three in white - with a star in the middle.

    "You must be an example to the present day political system and I will be seeking your suggestions rather than giving you speeches," Haasan said in his address before nearly a lakh supporters.

    With this, Kamal Haasan becomes one more actor from the Tamil Nadu movie world to float a political party.

    Earlier in the day, Haasan formally began his political journey from former President late APJ Abdul Kalam's residence in Rameswaram and said he is no more a movie star but a lamp in the homes of people.

    Also read: Kamal Haasan's political journey began long before February 21. 10 quotes tell you why

    "Like the lamp in your homes you should protect me," Kamal said on his way to Madurai. "Greatness can come from simple beginnings," he said.

    "Actually, it will come only from simplicity. Glad to start my journey from a great man's simple abode," the actor added in a tweet.

    The dramatic entry of the top two Tamil superstars - Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth - into politics comes in the backdrop of a perceived vacuum in Tamil Nadu politics after former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's death in 2016, and the declining health of DMK chief M Karunanidhi for over a year now.

Accused in Ishrat Jahan case, ex-Gujarat DGP Pandey discharged by CBI court
  • A special CBI court in Ahmedabad today discharged former Gujarat DGP PP Pandey after he moved an application. Pandey was an accused in Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. Earlier, the Gujarat government had refused to give sanction to initiate trial against him in the Ishrat Jahan case.

    Moving his petition for discharge in the court, Pandey had argued that the witnesses' statements were contradictory and unreliable. The CBI court accepted the argument while it ordered to discharge Pandey from the charges.

    Investigating agency CBI had opposed Pandey's discharge petition saying in a written response that there were eye-witnesses who corroborated his role in the conspiracy. It said that the witnesses gave details about how Pandey met the Ishrat Jahan and Javed Sheikh, who were police's custody, before they were killed.

    "The court has accepted my petition for discharge. This is a big relief for me. Justice may be delayed in the country but truth essentially comes out."

     On the other hand, Shamshad Pathana, the prosecution counsel, said, "This is very disappointing for the victims who have been fighting for justice."

    Pandey is currently out on bail in the case after spending 19 months in jail. He was the senior-most serving IPS officer when he was arrested in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case in 2013. He was released on bail in February 2015.

    Pandey is the only accused to have been discharged from trial in Ishrat Jahan case. He retired from service last year. The CBI had chargesheeted Pandey along with retired police officers DG Vanzara, NK Amin and Tarun Barot, and IPS officer GL Singhal among others in connection with the case.

    The CBI chargesheet said that the accused hatched a conspiracy to kidnap and murder of 19-year-old Mumbai girl Ishrat Jahan, her friend Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai and two Pakistani nationals in 2004. The CBI said that the four were killed in a staged encounter.

    Besides the police officers of Gujarat, four IB officers, including former special director Rajinder Kumar, named in its chargesheet by the CBI.

Delhi Chief Secretary assault: Top babus seek appointment with President Ramnath Kovind
  • Top officers from IAS and DANICS cadres today sought an appointment with President Ram Nath Kovind, seeking action against those involved in the alleged attack on Delhi government chief secretary.

    Yesterday, a delegation of IAS and Delhi and Andaman Nicobar Island Civil Services (DANICS) officers met Home Rajnath Singh and apprised him of the situation in Delhi.

    This happened after Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash alleged that he was assaulted by some AAP MLAs in front of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia on Monday night during an official meeting.

    "We have sought an appointment with the president to demand action against those who were involved in the attack on the chief secretary at the chief minister's residence," Manisha Saxena, secretary of the Delhi IAS Association, told PTI.

    She said the IAS and DANICS associations have called a meeting in the evening to discuss the issue, but asserted that all officers are working at the Delhi Secretariat.

    There are around 70 IAS officers and 400 DANICS officers working in various Delhi government departments.

    In his police complaint, Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash has alleged that he had been called to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's residence in north Delhi's Civil Lines area, where he was attacked by some Aam Aadmi Party legislators.

    In the complaint, Prakash, a 1986-batch IAS officer of the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre, said the assault on him at the chief minister's residence was "premeditated" and a "conspiracy" of all those who were present.

    The chief minister's officer has termed the accusation "bizarre and baseless".

Business Affairs

EPFO accounts to attract lower interest rate of 8.55% for 2017-18
  • Retirement fund body EPFO on Wednesday lowered the rate of interest on employees provident fund to 8.55 per cent for its over 6-crore subscribers for 2017-18, from 8.65 per cent in the previous fiscal.

    "It is difficult to evaluate about future in view of present economic scenario. We paid 8.65 per cent last fiscal, which left a surplus of Rs 695 crore. This year, we have decided to recommend 8.55 per cent for 2017-18, which will leave a surplus of Rs 586 crore," Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar told reporters after the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation's (EPFO) trustees meet.

    Gangwar, who also heads EPFO's apex decision making body Central Board of Trustees (CBT), said he expects the finance ministry to give concurrence to the 8.55 per cent rate of interest decided today at the CBT meeting.

    After the CBT's decision on interest rate, the proposal is vetted by the finance ministry. Once approved by the finance ministry, the rate of interest is credited into subscribers' account.

    Gangwar expressed hope that the trade unions will agree to the decision of providing 8.55 per cent rate of interest.

    The minister also said the EPFO has liquidated portion of its investments in the exchange traded funds (ETFs) to bridge the gap to provide 8.55 per cent interest this fiscal.

    He said the EPFO received 8 per cent returns on its bond investments but it is able to pay 8.55 per cent rate because it has sold some of its investments in ETFs.

    He explained that it is higher than 7.6 per cent provided to General Provident Fund and Public Provident Fund subscribers.

    Gangwar further said the ETF investments have fetched a return of 20.65 per cent so far, and in the months of January and February this year, the EPFO has sold Rs 3,700 crore ETFs which earned a return of Rs 1,011 crore.

    The EPFO has invested around Rs 44,000 crore so far in the ETFs. It had started investing in ETFs in August 2015.

    On the administrative charges, he said the CBT has decided to reduce the administrative charges from 0.65 per cent to 0.50 per cent of total wages which are paid by employers.

    The minister also said the trust has also decided to reduce the workers threshold for coverage under the EPFO schemes to 10 from existing 20.

    At present, all those units employing 20 or more employees are mandatorily covered under the social security schemes run by the EPFO.

    He expressed hopes that reduction in employees threshold could help increase the EPFO subscribers' base from existing 6 crore to even 9 crore.

    Gangwar also assured that the required amendment in the Employees' Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act would be done to implement the decision to reduce employees threshold.

    Earlier, the CBT has also taken this decision, but it could not be implement because of long pending amendment in the Act.

    On this occasion, the minister also launched the EPFO's UAN-AADHAAR linking facility for the convenience of the members using EPFO link in UMANG mobile application. This is in addition to existing facility on the website of the EPFO.

Gem, jewellery export body condemns Nirav Modi fraud; says incident will not affect industry
  • The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (JEPC) has condemned the recent episode of alleged siphoning of funds by the companies related billionaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. The body has also demanded a through probe in the matter. Raising concern, the industry representatives said they are against any sort of unlawful or illegal actions by any individual, trade or otherwise. "When thousands of exporters undertake business lawfully, adhering to all norms and practices, prescribed very diligently, incidents of this kind can only take place due to non-adherence of norms," they said.

    The council, however, assured it would not have any contagion effect on the gems and jewellery export industry. In a press release, the council said going by the prevalent compliance system in place, chances of such vast irregularity without any detection across several financial periods is surprising. "This only demonstrates lacunae in internal control system and failure or lack of fraud protection measures within the PSU," it said.

    The council slammed the PNB for clearing LoUs to Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi's companies without following proper norms. "The GJEPC is struggling to garner financing to the gem and jewellery exporters, especially the SME exporters. Such kinds of clear advances (LoUs) being provided by a bank without any safeguards speak volumes of irregularities, which need to be investigated," said the council, adding that it was ready to assist all investigating agencies in all possible ways.  

    The gems and jewellery sector contributes to 7 per cent of the country's GDP, 15 per cent of India's merchandise exports, and employs more than 4.5 million people of the country.

    It is important to know that bank finance to trade is guided by stringent norms of the RBI and the centre government with internal audits on quarterly and annual bases. Every Swift code (an international bank code that identifies banks worldwide) transaction by a bank is intimated to Nostro (an account that a bank holds in a foreign currency) and International Division (treasury) of the bank. Besides, the RBI had launched Export Data Processing and Monitoring System (EDPMS) in March 2014 to monitor payments against Export/Import Bill.

    The country's second largest public sector bank, PNB, on February 14 said it detected a "fraudulent and unauthorised" transaction worth Rs 11,400 crore at its Brady House branch in Mumbai. The PNB complaint to the CBI stated diamantaire Nirav Modi's company had siphoned off Rs 11,400 crore through 'fraudulent' means.

No policy for electric vehicles, but FAME scheme to continue
  • The promised policy for electric vehicles (EVs) may not have materialised but the government has clarified that at least the existing policy for Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles will continue beyond the March 31 deadline.

    The first phase of the scheme was launched in 2015 initially for a period of two years with an overall allocation of Rs 795 crore. It was later extended by one more year.

    In this year's budget, the government has taken a number of steps like increasing customs duty on 53 auto components, CKD components for cars and commercial vehicles as also on commercial vehicles themselves, to provide added protection to the domestic industry and encourage investors to set up facilities in the country rather than export goods. It is however, silent on the expected extension of the FAME scheme neither does it say anything on the EV policy.

    "I want to assure the industry that work is on towards finalising the scheme (FAME 2) in its second edition. So government support for alternate fuel vehicles will continue beyond March 31," said Anant Geete, Minister for Heavy industries and Public Enterprises. "Even in the budget, Rs 260 crore has been allocated for support of market development for hybrid or electric vehicles through provision of subsidy for purchase of e-vehicles charging infrastructure, etc. Over 1000 e-vehicles with charging infrastructure in public transport of 11 cities are targeted covering buses, taxis and three-wheelers."

    "With the customs duty revision we are trying to strike a balance between attracting investments from outside and providing some protection to the domestic industry. It is not a sign of blanket protectionism," he added.  

    The industry had been disappointed by the lack of support for EVs in the budget. Though announcement on any taxation is now outside the ambit of the annual budget and is done only after the periodic GST council meetings, companies were hoping for some indication on relaxation of GST on EVs and components.

    "The only thing we were expecting from the budget was rationalisation of GST rate i.e. currently 12% for EVs and 28% for EV batteries. Also, we had requested that GST should be made at least either 0 or 5% for initial years. But we didn't find any mention of the same," said Sohinder Gill, Director-Corporate Affairs, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles.  "Perhaps it will be covered in the policy, later. Overall we are happy with the outcome of the budget."

Sensex closes 141 points higher to 33,844 level, Nifty at 10,397; TCS, ITC lead gains, banking stocks recover
  • The Sensex and Nifty snapped three sessions of losses to close higher on Wednesday as IT stocks led the recovery with bank stocks which have been battered by the Punjab National Bank's Rs 11,400-crore fraud gaining some lost ground.

    TCS (3.38%) , ITC (2%) and ONGC stocks 1.79% led the recovery on Sensex which closed 141 points or 0.42% higher at 33,844 level. Nifty rose 37 points or 0.36% higher to 10,397 level.

    While the Nifty IT index rose 2.33% or 288 points to 12,660 level, the BSE information technology index rose 2.20% or 265 points to 12,338 level.

    HCL Technologies ended 4.14 percent higher at 945 level and was the top percentage gainer on the Nifty.Tech Mahindra (3.54%), TCS (3.31%) and ITC (1.82%) were other major gainers on the index.

    Metal stocks were the top losers with the BSE metals index falling 191 points to 14,867 level.

    "IT stocks and ITC have given stability to markets at this level ... markets could remain range-bound today," said Madhumita Ghosh, head corporate solutions, Tasmac Global Education.

    Selloff continued in state-run lenders after a fraud at Punjab National Bank (PNB) shook the industry last week. The Bank Nifty recovered 62 points in late trade to 24,936 level. The BSE bankex too rose 81 points to 28,142 level.

    But Ghosh said the fall in public sector banks is expected to continue.

    After much criticism over his silence on the PNB fraud, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday assured the country that state would chase down whosoever "cheats the banking system". The recovery in the banking stocks can be attributed to the FM's statement and buying at low levels in anticipation of profits.

    Market breadth was negative 1131 stocks rising against 1590 falling on BSE. 149 stocks were unchanged.

    The Eros International stock closed 4.63% or 9.15 points higher at 206.85 level on BSE. The stock rose after Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) on Tuesday said it would acquire 5 percent stake in NYSE listed Eros International for Rs 1,000 crore with a view to producing and acquiring Indian films and digital originals across all languages.

Eros International stock closes 4.63% higher after RIL announces 5% stake buy for Rs 1,000 cr
  • The Eros International stock rose 5.13% or 10.15 points on BSE to 207 level after Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) on Tuesday said it would acquire 5 percent stake in NYSE listed Eros International for Rs 1,000 crore with a view to producing and acquiring Indian films and digital originals across all languages.

    At 9:59 am, the stock rose 4.93% to 207.45 level. It hit a high of 219 level and low of 206 level in intra day trade. The Eros International stock 4.63% higher to Rs 206 on BSE.   

    The Reliance Industries stock was trading 0.60% or 5.50 points higher at 924.90 on BSE. It closed 0.97% higher to 928.35 level on the BSE.

    On an year to date basis, the stock is up 1.41%. The stock is down 2.43% during the last one year.

    RIL and Eros International Plc announced that RIL, through a subsidiary, "has agreed to subscribe to a 5 per cent equity stake" in Eros at a price of $15 per share, RIL said.

    Both the companies have agreed to partner in India to jointly produce and consolidate content from across the country.

    "The parties will equally invest up to Rs 1,000 crore in aggregate (about USD 150 million) to produce and acquire Indian films and digital originals across all languages," it said.

    Eros International Media Limited is engaged in the business of film production, exploitation and distribution. The company's principal products/services include media and entertainment industry. Its geographical segments include within India and outside India.

    The company distributes film content through the various distributions channels, including theatrical, which include multiplex chains and stand-alone theatres; television syndication, which include satellite television broadcasting, cable television and terrestrial television, and digital and ancillary, which includes Internet Protocol television, video on demand, music, inflight entertainment, home video and Eros Now.

General Awareness

Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
President approves Bill allowing Kambala in Karnataka

  • Context: President Ram Nath Kovind has approved the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Bill making Kambala a legal rural sport in Karnataka. With this, all apprehensions and obstacles that were preventing kambala have been cleared.

    Background:

    Karnataka government had promulgated Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 on July 20 last year. The Bill seeks to exempt kambala and bullock-cart racing from the ambit of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960.

    About Kambala:

    What is it?

    Kambla in its traditional form is non-competitive with buffalo pairs made to race one after another in paddy fields, which is considered a thanksgiving to the Gods for protecting the animals from diseases.

    Why it has become controversial?

    Over the years, it has however become an organised sport with animal rights activists claiming that the buffaloes run in the race due to fear of being beaten, which the organizers dismiss, saying no violence is involved and that several modifications had been made to ensure that it is an animal friendly event.

    Way ahead:

    Kambala patrons are celebrating as they have almost won the battle. It is indeed a huge victory for the traditional slush track buffalo race, but a temporary one. Unless a scientific study is undertaken to prove that buffaloes used for ploughing in coastal Karnataka are also fit for racing, there is always the threat of the court staying the sport. Those against the sport have been claiming that the anatomy of buffalo is not fit for racing. Hence a scientific study is essential to prove the same. The government must constitute a scientific committee comprising of physiology and anatomy experts, doctorate holders and invite scientific reports stating that the buffaloes used for plouging purpose are fit to run in slush tracks.

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